By the next morning I had forgotten the promise I made to Al-Hadji, it was game day and Peter was there to wake me up, not even time or thought to wash my face or brush my teeth, just put on my sneakers and ran out, the excitement was palpable.
Those days we did not have any means of entertainment, we had to invent it ourselves. We played our form of mini-football that was a mixture of chess and football.
It took a lot of patience to get started; it required craftsmanship just to create your players.
First you made the pitch, you took a cardboard piece and painted it green, then you painted the lines on the pitch, the pitch was usually 1m x 0.5m.
The goals were made of hanger wire, a cut mosquito net worked as the goal net. The players were the hardest part; it required several days simply to make one player, finding a player to mould was the first part.
When you found the player, it could be no longer than an inch; then you took a handful of clay and moulded it around the model, you then cut the mould in half and removed the model.
Then after the clay mould was dry, you looked for a little green soldier, the kind you used to buy in bulk to play war-games; you then got a lighter and melted the little green man into the mould and dropped the mould in cold water to set it quickly, otherwise it would stick to the mould.
You then smashed the mould and the footballer was inside, you then painted the player to be the one you liked; I had John Barnes and Ian Wright among others. The player was then mounted on a coin that had to be magnetic.
This was our play station and if done correctly it could surpass any modern electronic gadget.
My friend had a fully electronic model with magnetic handles that allowed you to control the players by remote from under the table; he built a full stadium with little fans, floodlights, and a scoreboard that lit up every time you scored a goal.
It is this genius that I fondly remember, when ones mind had to wonder just to see something, before the big flat screen and internet had emerged.
I had secretly created a new player, with extra-magnetic control to control the ball better; I had sharpened the tip of his foot for hours with painstaking tenderness till it was so sharp and accurate.
I arrived at Steve’s house early at 8a.m, he had been preparing since 6a.m, I opened my chess-box to reveal my players and he instantly recognised the new one.
“No new players allowed, you have to register him first, that is really good technique; how did you get the finish like that?” He asked.
“You have to dip the hot mould in cold water to set the plastic, and then you use metallic paint for the finish.” He nodded in approval, and we proceeded to play, we took the game very seriously, we played a full 90 minutes and the scores were always tight.
We had 10 teams in the league, every boy gave Rwf1, 000 to join with a total pot of Rwf10, 000 and that was astronomical money when you consider a crate of soda was only Rwf2, 400.
The Championship winner would be a relative millionaire, so the games were always tight because of the money at stake. Steve always won the money, and the best we could hope for was a soda at the end.
We prepared to kick off; my Young Ones United vs. his Killer XI but he brought some reality back into the mix. “I heard you’re in debt to that Al-Hadji guy, he’s not even a Muslim, he just uses it for respect, and he’s really a witchdoctor.
Did you know he can stop your heart with just one look?” A cold chill went down my spine.