Inspired by Mwaura Karagu’s post “FOOTBALL RULES WHEN WE WERE KIDS” on 2nd of Dec 2016 I am going to add a few things and only dwell on what folks didn’t mention.
Any open un used space served the purpose be it a village path or a non used classroom un-tended shamba or the communal watering area (Iriuko ). If the pitch was not level-which was very common- disagreement would start here with folks trying to agree on which team was to start playing ‘down slope’.
This used to be hectic. Coming into a consensus on who was to play on which side was a hard nut to crack. The ball owner used to have an upper hand in choosing his team mates but more often than not he could not touch the bluntly gawkish; those that you would rather your grandmother was on your team. These guys usually chose a spot on the pitch where they could pitch tent for the entirety of the match. Every time that the ball came within a few inches, they threw their legs as if they wanted to snap them out of the hip socket hitting the ball to whichever direction they were facing sometimes (which was almost always) slicing the ball or missing it altogether. They added no value to your side despite being counted as a member of your team.
To make the selection bear some semblance of openness, we would make a line with people shifting aside alternately but this too was subject to abuse. You only needed to make sure that all the guys you wanted to be on the same side didn’t line up next to each other.
Goal area and goal posts.
For goal posts, many a times, stones were used or some sticks pegged to the ground. The distance between the two “posts” would be agreed upon and set by stepping off 4 or 6 steps. As the match progressed unscrupulous players would move the posts close together while the opponents were not watching and as time went by, a goal width that was initially 4 -6 huge steps would be reduced to no more than two steps until the opponents came to the realization and called the bluff.
A match, like cricket, could go for a whole day. There were intermittent breaks. Football federations world over are now embracing this old tradition that was practiced by boys in rural villages. The only difference between the water breaks you currently see in major competitions and the ones we used to have is that in our time, during the interval several things would happen. These range from raiding peoples shamba to steal sugarcane, guava’s, mangoes, loquats, or whatever happened to be in season.
There were no rules for offside. Some weasel would sit with the opposing goalkeeper talking porojo or cracking macadamia (using the ‘goal post stones’) only to score the next minute.
Determining whether a shot was over the bar.
Since the improvised goals had no crossbar, it was imperative that the goal keeper jumped to ascertain whether the shot was within the confines of the goal area or not. Failure to jump would leave the goal to stand even if the ball had touched the clouds. You had to jump for any high ball.
Some goalkeepers jumped way above the ball’s trajectory and when beaten still claimed that the ball was miles in the air.
These were normally awarded after going hammer and tongs on whether a foul deserved a penalty or not. A squabble also ensued among the team mates who could not settle easily on who was to take the spot kick.
Battle lines would be drawn when it came to measuring the 12 yards for a spot kick. Those whom the pen was going against would measure the steps in a way that could make you be forgiven for thinking they were doing the skips of a triple jump- those were the kind of steps they made. Those taking the penalties would measure the steps in a manner suggestive of sappers walking in a mine riddled field.
Matches degenerating into judo.
More often than not,’ a career threatening tackle’ was followed by an exchange of blows. The match would come to a halt as we excitedly watched two guys ferociously go at each other. Each team would fire their member up. You only intervened if the guy on the receiving end was your young sibling or somebody close.
If the ball owner happened to be one of the antagonists and lost the duel, he would pick his ball and leave bringing the match to a premature end until another ball was found or until the ball owner inferred that the rest had learnt a lesson after suffering without a ball.
In my playing ‘career’ as a young boy, I did not encounter any player who failed to play due to an injury or sickness. Guys played with cuts a few inches deep. Toes with detached nails as a result of stubbing didn’t lay anyone up. They played with bloated stomachs. Others played with horrific open perennial wounds. It is funny how we are told that a key player in a major league is missing a game due to a virus. We played with all vermin and parasites. Hell…. some guys even played with plastered limbs.
After sun set we would come back to our senses. This is when we would remember that we had been given duties mostly by our mums before they left for the market or to Kibarua or to a church event or a women’s Chama. The same way we are told that a full moon brings about lunatism, I think the setting-sun brought us bought back to normal. This is when we realized that we were supposed to be tending cattle not playing football.
It did not help matters when you found your mum already at home and the cattle stranded outside their Boma having called it a day after uninterruptedly eating to their fill from people’s maize crop.
It always resulted into a date with the Kiondo strap.