Freetown, Baby!

Health and safety gone mad by jc2010sl
October 26, 2010, 11:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

Chaos is a pretty common state of affairs in Salone. Host a qualifying match for the African Cup of Nations at the rusting National Stadium against South Africa, and its pretty much guaranteed. I’d been looking forward to the game for weeks and had asked my driver to pick up tickets when they went on sale. Each day I’d ask if they were out yet, and each day he’d say “not yet”.

The reason for this delay was apparently security concerns. Tickets are printed on simple coloured paper so release is delayed until the morning of the game to stop photocopying of tickets and over-crowding. Sensible enough in theory, but rendered utterly redundant by the actual “policing” of the event.

We started queueing in one of no more than 4 entrances to the 30,000 seater stadium about 3 hours before kick off. At the front it became apparent why we’d been told to get there so early. The queue degenerated into a ruck of 30 or so people – many without tickets – barging towards one single file gate. A fair bit of shoving later and we’d made into the stadium. From here it was not too difficult to make it to our seats in the mid-priced, covered, stand. Looking across the pitch we could see scores of people who’d climbed through razor wire to get a view from the floodlight pylons.

Not long after we’d taken our seats the gate to our stand was closed by a small group of policemen. From our seats directly above the entrance to the stand we could see them desperately trying to keep the rickety gate closed. They resorted to locking it with a pair of handcuffs.

After 20 minutes of concerted pressure from the crowd outside, the gates were smashed off their hinges and in the people flowed.

For half an hour they streamed in as the stand became ever more packed. Visions of Hillsborough flashed before my eyes and we decided to get out of the stand while we still could.

Feeling pretty disgruntled we thought we might be able to play the “lost white guy routine” and wangle an upgrade to the Presidential Suite. A policeman said he would shepherd us in, but as we came near it was exactly the same story – thronging crowds and a thin blue line manning the door. That was, until a huge surge smashed through the glass doors and swept into the suite. At this point we thought it best to cut our losses altogether and headed out of the stadium.

As we left the police allowing still more people in. I explained what we’d seen and one replied “yes, there are too many people in there,” seemingly making no link between the overcrowding inside and the streams he was letting in.

Frustrating as it was to leave away after such a wait, we made the right decision. Nonetheless, I did allow myself a slight smile when we heard the result on the radio later: nil – nil.



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