Mihlali Baleka (right) proudly displays the South African flag during the West Ham-Huddersfield Town clash at London Stadium.

JOHANNESBURG – I’m not a Liverpool fan. Neither am I a hater of the Reds. I’m just neutral about them, because I know that on any day, I’d jump at the opportunity to watch their stalwarts and two of the current African greats, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, take the field of play.

And thanks to MultiChoice, I got that opportunity while I am here in London, accompanying Bloemfontein Celtic reserve team who are being rewarded for winning the PSL feeder league this season.

Inclusive of my attractive itinerary was a live match at Craven Cottage, where relegation-threatened Fulham welcomed championship-hopefuls Liverpool in the English Premier League.

Add to the fact that, this would be the third live match that I’d watch since arriving here on Thursday, having been to the Emirates Stadium to watch Arsenal take on French outfit Stade Rennais in the second leg of the Uefa Europa League.

It was pleasing to the eye when Gabonese international, and African footballer of the Year nominee Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, propelled the Gunners to the last-eight of the continental competition.

That encounter was followed by an EPL clash between West Ham United and Huddersfield Town at the 2012 Olympics Games main arena, London Stadium.

Having already been to these two stadiums that have such a profound history, the 26 000-seater at Craven Cottage was likely going to give me a unique experience, I rhetorically thought.

Its outside walls were a piece of admiration themselves, built in the old rigid bricks that show it was originally a royal lodge.

But it was the entrance to the field of play that was mind blowing. The Stadium is rectangular shaped, while the stands are separated by balconies that belonged to the ancient royals who used the arena for hunting.

We, together with the traveling crew and team, were designated at the “Putney End”, where the Reds’ supporters sat. Not only were these the best seats in the house but it brought a good view of the stadium. And, the more I glanced at its design, the more I noticed a familiar architecture.

Craven Cottage’s four stands are designed with a metal zinc rooftop, and the grandstand on my left is joined with the cameramen’s platform that’s underneath. In the top floor, lies the commentary box, while the stand is centred with the VIP box.

On my far right, just across the left VIP section, there sat my English colleagues. This intimate atmosphere rekindled a picture of Bidvest Stadium - just that it had supporters packed to the rafters, while all stands were covered in zinc.

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This took me back home to Milpark and Africa at large, considering that this encounter featured two of the three players who were in line to claim the African Player of the Year award at the annual Caf Awards in Dakar, Senegal, earlier this year.

Salah, might have been crowned the golden boy at that ceremony, but Mane stole the spotlight here, scoring the opener while winning the penalty that gave them a 2-1 win over The Cottagers.

And that match-winning performance ensured the Reds went to the summit of the EPL log standings with 76 points, and with seven matches to go before the season ends.

I wasn’t at that ceremony in Dakar, but I surreally got to watch all three African Footballer of the Year nominees live!

@Mihlalibaleka



The Star

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