The real-life tales of a football writer
There’s a kid from where I hail called ‘Mozam.’ He’s got a big hooter. Or beak.
I never thought I’d have reason to go to Mozambique, but I visited the capital Maputo last week. If you’re ever considering a trip, I hope I saved you a journey because it makes Widnes look like New York.
Civil war ensued in Mozambique when Portugal’s dictatorship fell in 1974 and it pulled out of its former colony. Peace and democracy was restored in 1992, but while Maputo is full of character, it remains a dirty, oppressively hot, grid-locked, port city.
It also has a shopping centre which makes Manchester’s Arndale appear handsome – and a Lacoste shop which charges $200 (about £200 the way we are going) for a T-shirt.
Eusebio: "Brian who?"
We hired a taxi for a couple of hours. The driver always drew up short of the places we wanted to see. After two stops I worked out why. The city is on a gradual incline and he had to jump start his unreliable old motor by rolling it down the road because it wouldn’t start normally.
We visited the barrio where the great Eusebio grew up. Kids wore counterfeit Benfica, Sporting and FC Porto shirts, but it was easy to see why ‘the Black Pearl’ seldom returned. Cars had been striped down to metal in their parking places and the streets were litter-strewn.
Brian Kidd idolised Eusebio. As a 16-year-old, he went to watch Portugal train before the 1966 World Cup at Cheadle Town’s ground near Stockport and asked for his autograph and a picture. He watched Portugal play at Goodison just to study Eusebio and reckoned Eusebio’s club Benfica were the best team in the world in the mid 1960s.
Two years later Kidd played against his idol in a European Cup final. Before the game, one newspaper had Eusebio saying: ‘Who’s Kidd?’
Rather than take offence, Kidd agreed with Eusebio’s opinion. Indeed he said he felt humbled to be on the same pitch as him. The Collyhurst Kidd also scored on his 19th birthday as United beat Benfica and became the first English team to lift the European Cup.
"...that would be me"
United fans have sung “Eusebio, and I say Kiddo’ (to the tune of The Beatles Hello Goodbye) ever since. When his mother died a couple of years ago, Kidd cleared out her loft. He found a picture of him with Eusebio from 1966, which he still treasures.
I considered leaving Maputo for nearby Swaziland, the tiny landlocked country which was once attracted English teams as sanctions prevented them playing in neighbouring South Africa.
United and Tottenham once played a post-season tour there in 1983. United played Spurs twice in the Lobamba national stadium. But in between, United and Spurs combined to form a single team: ‘Tottman’. This bizarre entity of Hoddle and Robson et al beat a Swaziland XI 6-1.
Tottman team-mates: Robson and Hoddle
Madagascar was supposed to be our next stop, but the Foreign Office issued a statement, the gist of which was: “If you go to Madagascar then you’re going to gets your balls crushed with sledgehammers and boiled alive. It’s kicking off badly between the government, the army and protestors. More than 100 people have died since January.”
I didn’t fully trust the Foreign Office. Aside from the wonderful lady I met recently who worked for the British Government in Brasilia and Mauritius, everyone who I’ve ever met who grafts there seems to be called Giles and is a little detached from reality on the ground.
I always thought that they spent their lives walking round in smoking jackets holding a tray of Ferrero Rochers for rival ambassadors and governors, talking about glamorous postings to Washington or Paris rather than Mozambique and Maputo.
But I trusted them enough not to go to Madagascar.
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