Out Of Stockport

Virtually 21 years ago to the day I was some distance from SK3 to put it mildly. The 1995/96 season was memorable for a couple of reasons. The ‘new’ Cheadle End was opened and you may also remember a couple of games against Everton in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Much of this was to pale into insignificance the season after but I take you back to my placement at the end of April 1996:

Zimbabwe is the country of my birth although it was Southern Rhodesia at the moment that I first sniffed the African air. My stay was all too brief and by my 4th birthday I was back in the historical parental town of Stockport. My father remained in Rhodesia although it was to be another three decades before I returned in 1995 and repeated the trip the following year.
Adrian on safari....and Safari Game Scout.

During the period just before 1995 I had noted that a young Zimbabwean man had written to Stockport County asking for pen pals, pictures and general swapping of photos and the like. I responded and began corresponding. Internet at this time was pretty crude and way beyond the means of the average African so we did it the old fashioned way with letters, postcards and small parcels – some of them actually reached their destination, many did not.

Having been in Zimbabwe the year before on my own I had not had a chance to get to the country’s second city – Bulawayo where my County pen pal resided but had pledged to do it the year afterwards and armed with some boots, balls, pennants and other stuff that Mr Bellis kindly conjured up along with some kit that I had bought including that lovely jade green adidas away jersey. Air France took myself and my wife to Harare.. Unfortunately he was never to receive that green shirt, more of which I will regale you with later.

In 1996 Zimbabwe was still a fertile, farming, producing country with an economy much the envy of most sub Saharan countries. A pound sterling would have gotten you around three Zimbabwean Dollars, twelve years later the country was issuing 100 Trillion Dollar banknotes, I digress, fuel was available and my Dad informed me that he had purchased a Toyota Landcruiser. What he did not inform me was that it was of considerable vintage, he had imported it from Japan and had travelled all the way to Durban in South Africa to pick it up. Our first trip in said Landcruiser was to the northern town (village) of Kariba where we had arranged for a small plane to take us to a safari lodge some 80 miles down Lake Kariba.

That Landcruiser + Adrian !

 Unfortunately Dad’s Toyota had other ideas and about half way into the 200 mile plus trip to Kariba the Landcruiser died….. in the middle of nowhere. Pre mobile phone, Elephant, Lion, totally busted head gasket. I did what self respecting males do – propped the bonnet open, sparked up a cigarette (I gave up shortly after) and stared at the engine. The Gods were smiling on us as a pick up passed us, turned around and enquired as to our wellbeing informing us that a two large male lions were about 500 yards away and would we like a lift to the nearest town. 
A tile of Goddess Nike- smiling on Adrian! 

We said that we would walk (joking) and jumped in the back of the pick up leaving the useless Landcruiser, minus our baggage to the Lions.

Fast forward 3 hours and we are sat in the back of the HarareLusaka express bus. Not an express and barely a bus. We shared the back seat with a pig who seemed to be enjoying the scenery. 

The very pig- a precocious sort !

The bus stopped at some village where three guys got off, had a fight with a man at the bus stop and got back on again. Close to Kariba the bus had to violently swerve to dodge a huge bull elephant – the pig was nonplussed and all of the considerable wares on the roof of the bus fell off. 
Eventually we arrived in Kariba, which to my horror I noted was a couple of miles from the small airport where our long departed plane had presumably not waited for us. The Kariba to Kariba airport road is definitely one that you do not want to walk. Lots of animals to kill you, I did think of making an offer for the pig as a decoy but thought better of it as we had become quite attached on the journey.
A local- Up for a snack..Adrian perhaps!

Kariba village consists of a Spar and little else. Spar’s are everywhere in Africa. I had heard of a story about two guys who had decided to seek a better life elsewhere and had trekked through very dangerous countryside for many days. 
Kariba Village up at the top.....

They finally reached the safety of a village Spar store only to be killed by a Lion whist drinking a coke on the wall outside the Spar. Thankfully this (true story) did not take place in Kariba but it looked as though it might. We inquired as to the whereabouts of a taxi and when the locals had stopped laughing we gathered that there was one but apparently he was rarely sober, the taxi had no back seat or any windows and he had no radio. Just as I was contemplating making an offer for the pig the chassis of a bus approached down the dust track of a road. I say chassis, that it what it was, no frame, no seats, just an engine and a steering wheel.  My wife pushed me in front of the bus forcing it to halt, a bit of a cheek really as she had assumed it had brakes. Now at this point I have to confess that the jade green Adidas county away shirt that I had purchased for my pen pal was currently on my back. He was never going to know after a quick wash. I inquired with the chassis driver if he could take us to the air strip. He said that if we could dangle off the chassis he would continue his ‘test drive’ to the runway and by the way he really, really, really liked my shirt.

Have you ever flown naked from the waist up?  Huddled in the back of a 4 seater Piper with an impossibly young girl pilot, turned out it was her Dad’s, we eventually made it to our safari lodge but without ‘that shirt’ that may have not happened. You will be pleased to hear that our journey back to Harare was altogether more civilised although not as much fun. The Landcruiser was towed back to Harare where I found my Dad beating it with a branch.

The next conundrum was how to continue our tour of the country, heading to Victoria Falls via my friend in Bulawayo. Having reduced my Dad and Step Mothers fleet of 4 to 3 we had the choice of a very old Land Rover – quite a famous vehicle as it was loaned out to the makers of the Steve Biko film ‘Cry Freedom’ an equally veteran Toyota (aaah) Corolla estate or a Renault 5.

That famous Biko landrover....& Adrian!

 We elected the Corolla but my father decreed that it should have the brakes looked at and nobody had any brake pads. To our horror we watched a mechanic glue some pads to the shoes and that had to wait for a while before we could carry on with our journey while the heath robinson brake components dried. We did eventually get away and made the central town of Gweru before nightfall. We stayed in a ‘hotel’ that merits a book of its own, needless to say it made Faulty Towers look like the Mandarin Oriental.

The following day we arrived in the beautiful city of Bulawayo and somehow we found the township and the home where our friend awaited us. They dutifully accepted mine and the clubs gifts, invited us in for a while and we then departed for Victoria Falls.

Although I have returned a few times to Zimbabwe until my Dad died in 2002 I often wonder if that green shirt survives. One of the clubs gifts was I think a pair of Chris Beaumont’s old boots that may or may not be scorching the red African earth somewhere close to Bulawayo. Another note of some interest is that the only clubs that seemed to have any representation at that time in Zimbabwe were County, Coventry City and Leyton Orient.

...and again...Bulawayo....

County’s fortunes took a decidedly upward turn following this visit although the historic downturn is only too well documented and painful. Zimbabwe as a country took and continues to take a terrible course – may they both be reversed. And my friend, he suddenly stopped writing, in a country full of AIDS, famine and political unrest I can only wonder but hope.


Adrian Caville.


Top Posts

Linotype Cheadle Heath Nomads 0 Stockport County 3 ( Friendly- 8 July 2017)