As an uncoordinated endomorph, my only distinction at soccer was the honour of being allowed to keep our primary school teams’s leather football overnight. Next morning we gathered in drizzle at Strathallan Hawthorn FC’s pitch near Bridge of Allan. There was hardly any grass on the field, none at all in the centre circle (many years later a Johannesburg nephew referred to my bald head as ‘uncle’s stadium’, most of the pitches in Soweto being bare of cover due to over-use ). The Haws local rivals included Campsie Black Watch and the redoubtable Fishcross Skinlifters (worth a goal a game with that name ).

Our heroes were Stirling Albion, then owned by a coal merchant, Mr Fergusson. Their Annfield ground was notorious for having a diagonal slope on it, hence a big advantage if you won the toss and played ‘downhill’ in the second half when stamina was failing; training in those days consisted of a few laps round the pitch wearing studded boots. I and a handful of Albion supporters underwent a Damascene experience when we scored the only goal of the game to beat Celtic in the League Cup in 1980/81. At the final whistle, there was a blizzard of empty beer cans and bottles thrown onto the pitch from the mass of visiting fans at the opposite end of the ground.

In Zululand in the 1970s, Mr Fergusson’s equivalent was Daniel Thahe, a tall, slim Sotho who was in charge of the hospital laboratory at Tugela Ferry. Immaculately turned out in a white, fashionably short lab coat with collar and tie, he invariably carried a file under his arm. He spoke in a mid-Atlantic drawl, especially when describing the latest South African Nationalist Party’s absurdities or savouring one of the Church of Scotland missionaries’ personal foibles. The file contained the strategic plans for Tugela Ferry United’s next clash in the Msinga district football league, Daniel being their manager, life president and sole selector. Their dusty uneven ground was just over the river from the hospital and they attracted a few hundred spectators on a good day, Daniel bravely doing the rounds at half-time seeking donations for unspecified purposes.

The laboratory assistant was Cameron Dube, appointed after strong recommendations by Daniel as to his technical virtuosity. He was Ferry United’s centre forward and had never been near a laboratory test tube or sputum pot in his life; quick as a whippet and with legs like steel hawsers, his approach to opponents was to run through or over them rather than waste time feinting or jinking. In several respects, Cameron and United reminded me of the Albion – the Ferry had much bigger crowds, though.

The last soccer game I played was more a matter of serious politics than sport. In the 90s, the nascent trades unions in Swaziland were flexing their muscles, and the then highly profitable sugar companies were an obvious target. At the Royal Swaziland Sugar Company, there were strikes, outbreaks of violence, aggressive marches, and one unexplained death. As chief medical officer and with a foot in both camps as their doctor, I suggested management challenge the two unions – to a game of soccer. To our surprise, they accepted. The terms were 30 minutes each way. Our management team was chosen after a SWOT analysis – S for Strengths meant fitness, all our up and coming young Swazi managers being squash players or runners; W as Weaknesses were too obvious – only two of our squad played football; O for Opportunities – we hoped the senior shops stewards, who tended to be noisy and unathletic, would insist as a matter of honour that they themselves be selected; T meaning Threats, as in us turning up at the Company stadium full of the Unions’ supporters baying for our blood – this threat vanished when our agricultural manager ordered the stadium’s pitch to be covered with tons of bagasse, a byproduct of milled sugar cane, rendering it unplayable and causing the match to be moved to the local primary school’s ground.

Applying Management by Objectives theory, an obscure philosophy found in one of our team’s MBA lectures, our strategy during the match was to keep wide apart from each other, speak in siSwati so as not to arouse hostile emotions, and avoid trying to pass the ball to a teammate (which was way beyond our technical skill) but instead kick it into any open space, thus forcing the Union team to run constantly. In addition, we arranged that at half-time, players would be offered the choice of sliced oranges and grapefruits from our neighbour’s citrus estate or bottles of Sibebe, a maize-based beer of high alcohol-content, our team being forbidden to even sniff the latter.

All of us – unions, management and a handful of spectators – ended up enjoying the match. Who won? Well, it didn’t matter that much, but when our young Swazi MBA student somehow chested the ball into the net for the only goal, that was another Damascene moment.

Dr David Vost studied medicine at Glasgow University and is currently working at a hospital in Swaziland. He and his family live on a small farm in Northern Uganda near the Albert Nile.