Blog 13 – Sewera Mpira Afrika 

A belated Happy New Year to all! 

Well, it has been a while since my last blog, and to be honest, following my travels I’m a Malawi3little bit out of touch with what has been going on in both the UK and in Africa. I’m back in London now, waiting for my flight back to the warm heart of Africa.

While in England I managed to take in the FA Cup game against Cardiff, to say the performance and result were disappointing would be an understatement. Both teams looked like championship sides, and quality was at a premium. Sadly Solskjaer did us again by making 2 game changing subs. In reality that means our season is virtually over before the end of January, unless the club surprise us and bring in some real quality to push for a European spot. Sadly, I feel that will be unlikely, so 7th/8th and best of the rest is likely to be our main target. At the start of the year, I would have been happy with that in the league, but it needed to be complimented by good cup runs. This is made worse thanks to Sunderland making a cup final, even if it may help us make Europe, I still can’t find any real silver lining in it.

I missed both the City game and the West Ham game due to being deep in the Guyana rainforest but having seen match reports since it sounds like performances were much improved from the FA cup match, and it is always nice to get one over Fat Sam.

There seem to be a few transfer rumours knocking about, Cabella and De Jong seem to be the main two that I have seen since arriving back in the UK less than 24 hours ago. Both would be decent signings, and I’d hazard a guess that the signing of Cabella (albeit in the summer according to reports in France) would lead to the departure of HBA. De Jong would be a decent signing although, as I have said previously, I would prefer a permanent deal with performance related fees rather than a loan which would leave us vulnerable in the summer due to a dearth of strikers on the books – particularly if rumours of a Cisse departure become a reality. Once again we are subject to a will he/won’t he leave circus surrounding Cabaye. £14milion from PSG is laughable, but if the stories are true about him being their number 1 target and Man Utd bidding, then I’d expect him to leave, regardless of him saying he was happy to stay last week. If we sell him, we will be taking a massive gamble. Even if we got Grenier from Lyon, or Cabella to replace him there is no guarantee either will settle into the Premier league this season – see Debuchy last season and this. I still think it is best for both Mike Ashley and the player himself to stay until after the World Cup, but Cabaye may look at Man Utd as an almost guaranteed start in the centre of midfield, playing in a deeper role behind Mata and alongside Carrick. Still, he has been sold every window since the Euro’s so we will see.

One transfer completed while I was away was the departure of Jonas on loan. A good servant to the club, and I’m sure most fans will wish him well at Norwich, and wherever he ends up in the future. He may have been on the decline as an attacking force the lat couple of years, but he has been an important part of the squad and team since his arrival under Keegan.

Over in Malawi, Surestream Academy continued their dominance in the Southern Region league amassing 78 points from their 28 games, only dropping 6 points all season and winning the title by a huge 31 points. The final weekend of the top flight was marred by violence with the title deciding match having to be stopped and postponed due to violence in the stands. Other games were also affected by violence, with 1 fan dying within the stadium and another dying later while in hospital due to injuries sustained. The title, which should have been decided before New Year remains undecided as Wanderers and Strikers – 2 of the clubs involved in the title battle – had to abandon their game in the 61st minute with Silver leading because of the violence. Both teams could still win the title, but Silver just required a draw to secure their 3rd title in a row. Both clubs have since refused to replay the match due to being banned from competing in the Superleague next season by the governing body. Both are currently appealing these bans which has left the championship in a state of limbo, with the current title unlikely to be decided until this is resolved, and the start of next seasons likely to be delayed as the clubs explore all possible avenues.

Sadly all this comes at a time when SULOM, who run the Superleague, had been in advanced discussions with TV channels for a rights package. This will be highly devalued by the banning of 2 of the biggest clubs in Malawi – it would be similar to the Premier league banning the Chelsea and Manchester City now. Both sides were also required to pay substantial fines, and I think that by the time this appeal process is over the 2 sides will be reinstated to the league with maybe an added fine replacing the bans.

So, I had been constantly told that football was well down the list of sports played in Guyana – behind Cricket, Rugby, Athletics and Hockey so very little money finds its way into the local leagues due to Cricket, Rugby and Hockey taking precedence; they are currently the Caribbean rugby champions and their greatest ever sportsman is Shivnarine Chanderpaul. I was pleasantly surprised to see football pitches in almost all of the villages that we travelled to and past.

I met a recently married couple, both of whom represent their regional sides the male having been offered an international call up, but he couldn’t afford to travel, and the Guyana Football Federation wouldn’t pay for travel so he missed his chance. Before I met his wife, he described her as short and fat (loving, I know) but deceptively fast and with quick feet. She played for the regional side up until they were married, but has since stopped playing due to the couple trying for a baby. It seems that the local indigenous population are more interested in football, but the Indo-Guyanese, who make up around half of the population are more fanatical about cricket. Still, in the parks of the capital when we walked through there were a number of games being played, including a game with a number of ex pat Brazilians and a former Colombian youth international as I later found out. So, while the leagues may not be up too much there is definitely a lot of interest in football over there, although as with most places, not many Newcastle fans (if any).

Finally, as promised to some friends, I managed to get to a Sunday League match while I was back between 2 sides, Fenham and the Old Novocastrians. I have friends on both sides, so it was lucky that the league game happened to fall on the only weekend I was in Newcastle. In pretty miserable conditions, and with the odd frozen patch on the pitch, the game kicked off with Fenham immediately taking the initiative. The ON’s are currently bottom of the league but put up a spirited performance for most of the match. But they were helpless against young fullback Ashley Holt as he arrived late in the box to head home to give Fenham a 3-2 lead. Ashley Holt then scored a second headed goal (and got MoM) before Stephen Taylor took his time to turn before picking out the top corner from the edge of the box.

Looking forward to getting back to playing once I arrive home in Malawi!