By Cubaka Bachishoga

I recently played in a football game in the Dzaleka refugee camp. It was a derby between Football Club Future and Football Club Kalembelembe, which are both from the Dowa district. I played for Dzaleka Future. Whenever our teams play against each other, the people in the camp plan their day around it so that they can come and watch the game. Almost everyone comes to support us. This time, I had invited friends from all over to come and cheer me on, as well as family members, and I did not want to disappoint my guests.

The supporters were excited to watch us play. We wore green and white, while Kalembelembe wore red and yellow. I played in central midfield wearing number eight. The referees were all from Lilongwe. Both teams had wanted the referees to be from outside the Dowa district because all of the local referees were supporters of either one team or the other. It was a special sporting event, with lots of technical and tactical skill on both sides, and we had all practiced long and hard for it. I was determined to win the game, and I promised my teammates that if we won I would give them two thousand kwacha each, which raised the stakes.

The first half got underway. A Dzaleka Future player went on a good dribble, and our supporters cheered—even my teammates and I cheered. But it was like a debt had been incurred to the other team, and Kalembelembe’s best player replied with an impressive feint, and one of our defenders went down injured. As a result, the match was halted for a while, and our manager brought on a substitute for the defender. I suddenly had the feeling that my team was not going to win, but our manager continued to encourage us.

In the twenty-fifth minute, Kalembelembe swiftly attacked and scored a goal to make it one-zero. All of their supporters ran onto the field to celebrate, kicking up a cloud of dust. We couldn’t see each other because of all the dust. I was frustrated that Kalembelembe had scored. We resumed the match, now one goal down.

At the end of the first half, we scored an equalizer, but the linesman flagged for offside. I was disappointed when they disallowed our goal. It was a tense moment because it was entirely up to the referee to decide whether it was a goal or not—at other stadiums, it would have been checked by the video assistant referee, but Dzaleka didn’t have that technology yet. Some of our fanatical supporters menaced one of the linesmen, saying that the goal should stand. But security, whose job it was to maintain order in the stadium, defused the situation, and we resumed playing. A few minutes later the referee blew for halftime. In the stands, rival supporters debated the strengths of their teams.

We came back out and began the second half with newfound energy. During the break, our manager had given us instructions on how to play better in order to reverse the scoreline. The flow of the game changed; both teams went in search of a goal. Several days earlier, I had dreamed about this game, and in the dream we had lost. I was intent on proving that my dream had been wrong, especially after Kalembelembe scored. The game went on.

Some fanatical supporters started harassing the referees on their side of the field. They were threatening them and throwing bottles at them. People wanted to win in a dishonest way, but the referees did not personally know anyone in the crowd, and so they were unfazed. They continued to do their job properly, and we continued to try to win the game.

In the eightieth minute, I played a good combination of passes with our striker and scored a goal. It was an amazing moment. But when the referee gave the goal, the Kalembelembe supporters ran onto the field and started hitting him. The referee tried his best to run away, but they continued beating him. Security stopped some of the supporters and managed to protect the referee, but it wasn’t easy because there were so many people on the field. The referee ran and ran, though he fell down multiple times. He ran straight to the police station and went inside, shouting, “Munimange! Munimange! Munimange!”*

Soon there were lots of people outside the police station, shouting for the referee to come out. The police officers, having been made aware of the situation, refused to deliver the referee into the hands of those Kalembelembe fanatics. Eventually the supporters went back to their homes, and the match was abandoned, all because they refused to accept the referee’s decision.

* “Imprison me!”

6 October, 2023