When the itinerant coach Zoran Djordjevic arrives in South Sudan to train the world’s newest footballing nation, the first thing he does is to have some goals made. So far, so good; a new manager must always have goals. But for their first match, the crossbar is crowded with vultures – the symbolism is not hard to spot. By the end of Coach Zoran and his African Tigers (BBC4, Thursday) they can’t find a truck big enough to transport them to the next venue; they crash to the ground and fall to pieces. At least in this particular instance the South Sudanese Football Association could not be accused of moving the goalposts.
To say that Zoran himself fell off the back of a lorry would be a little unfair, though the Serb has certainly played the field, managing some 30 teams over the past three decades before rocking up at a country formed two years ago following 50 years of civil war. When he is fired at the end of Sam Benstead’s excellent 75-minute Storyville production, we are told that he is considering an offer to take charge of Syria (the team, not the country). He may not set the crossbar very high but he clearly relishes a dangerous challenge. “When I was young, I was a killer,” Zoran screams in his self-effacing way. He should fit right in.
Zoran might well fall off the back of a bike. He has to travel around the country on the back of a moped, something you can’t really imagine Sven or Fabio doing. The head of the SSFA, Chabur Ali, tells Zoran: “I want South Sudan to be in Rio di Janiero.” Zoran replies: “I don’t have the money for the bus.” He’s the coach who can’t afford the coach.
Chabur adds: “With strong hearts, eagle eyes and quick legs we’ll fly.” Sadly, it needs rather more than that. When the national team enter the prestigious Cecafa tournament in neighbouring Uganda, Chabur refuses to finance the trip – even locking the team out of their own stadium. So they manage to fly there courtesy of the tournament organisers, but some of the players can’t get back again because there aren’t enough return tickets.
The SSFA stopped paying Zoran too, but even though he was fleeced he still had enough money to buy himself a lamb as a pet, which he promptly installed in the bath in his hotel room. In a curious tale, this is just one more oddity.
“An animal will never betray you,” he says after being sacked. “He’s my best friend here. I love him too much.” He adds: “In our life we need innocent things.” The attitude among his players was rather different to their mascot, “Champion”; there is not much in the way of sentimentality as the country falls apart again. Hassan Ismail Konye, the national striker, says: “If the national team runs out of food, we could kill it and eat it.” Considering he comes from a family with 35 brothers and 26 sisters, he probably worries about getting food on the table.
Hassan has a chance to leave it all behind when he is offered a trial in Canada. His coach packs him off with the exhortation: “Be a man! Tiger! Lion! Eagle!”, which must have been even more confusing than Toronto’s skyscrapers as big as mountains. African teams tend to like their anthropomorphism, taking their nicknames from a menagerie of animals and birds – hence Zoran’s Tigers – but there has probably never been one called the “sacrificial lambs”.
Has there ever been a cooller knight than Sir Curtly Ambrose? The former West Indian fast bowler was invested in Antigua during England’s first one-dayer (Sky Sports 2, Friday), and when he spoke to another knight in whites, Sir Ian Botham, in the commentary box he revealed that he would celebrate by playing bass in his band Spirited that night, in a gig starting at 10.30pm. He is 6ft 7in tall, so it must have been a case of all knight long.