Every year at our annual Londolozi Christmas Party, the resident (and highly territorial!) soccer team, the Londolozi Leopards, agree – usually against their better judgement – to play an exhibition match against an invitational team, the Hyenas.
As one can imagine, the arch rivalry between these two animals in the bush spills over onto the soccer pitch, and the game is always highly competitive, with polarised factions cheering wildly from the sidelines, no quarter asked or given by the players, and the occasional streaker dashing in from the guarrie thickets.
This year’s match was no different, with the two teams going at it hammer and tongs for an hour before time was called. In most years the Leopards, well-drilled and fit, walk away with the win, while the hyenas, a rag-tag mix of rangers, trackers, front-of-house staff and whatever we can scrape together on the day, try valiantly but generally fall short. 2016 was an exception to the rule.
A few errant defensive efforts by the Hyenas let two goals slip through early on, and the feeling amongst the crowd was that the game might develop into a one-sided romp. Out on the pitch, however, the Hyenas felt differently and rallied gamely to come back to 2-1 down thanks to an incredible goal by star player Cry Sithole, manager of Founders Camp.
Time was running out when the Hyenas were awarded a free kick on the touchline about halfway down the field, and newly-appointed Londolozi GM Duncan MacLarty stepped up to take it. The crowd was hushed as he began his run-up, and with Sebago shoes gripping the dusty turf he swung an almighty right-footer, connecting not-quite-solidly with the ball, sending it trickling into the penalty box.
Now, a ball dispatched towards the goal with such a small amount of force may well be treated with disdain by the defending side, and such was the case here. The defenders – the goalkeeper included – felt so little threat from the kick that they simply watched the ball rolling towards them with a sort of condescending amusement. So confused were they by the ever-so-gradual approach of the ball that none of them thought to do anything about it, and all of a sudden the ball was making contact with the back of the net. The scores were tied. The crowd went absolutely bananas!
The Leopards came back strongly after that, fighting hard to snatch the win in the dying moments of the game, but some desperate defence by the Hyenas kept them goalless for the remainder, and when the final whistle blew the 2-2 scoreline remained.
Although no Premier League scouts were patrolling the sidelines, both teams put on a noteworthy performance, and the final score was a fair reflection of the game.
Rumour has it the Hyenas are already training for the return match in 2017…