Last Saturday, as is my custom, I travelled by first-class satellite to Wembley Stadium in London for the annual British Football Association Cup Final. I was over the moon: It was a great day for the game.
The hallowed green pitch, striped pale and dark like a prison jersey, shivered to the congealed timbre of several thousand voices solemnly slurring Abide With Me as flatulent tubas struggled to float the melody in the backwash. Under blue and white skies, blue and white banners swayed and undulated like drunken football fans. Some hailed Coventry City; others touted Tottenham Hotspur.
Proudly hoisted in no-fan’s land, one banner dared to be different: Scarborough FC, First Division Champions 1991. The camera winked back. Who was going to win this one? MMMmmmeeee, climaxed the massed mess of rival tongues, united in exuberant incoherence. There was a split-second pause for applause before the band marched off, fruitily tooting Congratulations. And celebrations.
The pitch was building up to a fever. You could hardly hear the commentators, but not hardly enough. ”This certainly proves that football is alive and well,” said one. ”It’s a great day for those involved” added another, although it may have been the same one, only at a different pitch.
In a sudden minor lull between swells, the camera concentrated its zoom on the condition of the pitch, and the other one said: ”Wembley pitch, looking immaculate. New irrigation system with popup sprinklers.” The mouth of the hallowed tunnel waggled a bright pink tongue, and the other one said: ”Also looking immaculate, the Duchess Of Kent. Suitably attired in neutral pink ”
A blinding flash of random white noise was suddenly funneled into God Save the Queen, and the camera zoomed tightly on the metallic crest of the Royal box and dissolved into heaven with one majestic celestial swoop. Holding its breath for a revolving God’s eye-view of the hallowed green oval, the camera swooned in infinity for the final chorus and crashed back to earth in a violent crescendo of relief.
”National anthem … lending a touch of dignity to the occasion … only sport that can produce the passion, the pageantry, and the tradition of the Cup Final … football … Spurs … Coventry …” Natal 15, Transvaal 13, said the bottom of the screen, lending a touch of rugby to the occasion, not to mend on a tinge of guilt.
By screening the Engelse FA Cup Final live on TV1 when it could have been screening a vital provincial rugby fixture, was the SABC not compromising its patriotic priorities in the face of foreign interference?
No; it was just embarrassed because Transvaal was losing. Rrrrrayowayowaaaayo: To the seasick ebb and flow of fuzzy preliminary chants, swallowed by wind and punctuated by rusty brass hooters, the Duchess of Kent shook hands with Spurs and Coventry.
The camera butted in to facilitate lipreading: ”Hello Mum”; ”Royal Highness”; ”Over the moon”; ”Suitably attired in pink”; ”And how long have you been an FA Cup Finalist?”. Her Royal Highness was kicked off the pitch and numerous balls were kicked on.
It was only a warm-up: Centre-forwards tripped on their shoelaces, mid-fielders kicked the tips of their fingers, goalkeepers scored dazzling own goals. Surrounded by officials and photographers, the referee flipped a coin and the captains froze in a photographic handshake.
The chanting drained to a murmur. Players removed their satin windbreakers. Fans licked their lips behind cages of wire anti-hooligan mesh. Coaches and directors sat solemnly on the sidelines in suits.
The commentator said: ”The scene is colourful. The mood is optimistic. And the stage is set for the 106th FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. Spurs and Coventry.” Thwoonk. Some bloke kicked a ball in the middle of the pitch, and I switched off. Hey, a guy doesn’t want to ruin the atmosphere, You know.