/ 24 November 2009

Put the fan back in Bafana

I see that Danny Jordaan, the grizzled Sepp Blatter of South Africa, has said that ”South Africans and Africans must support the continent’s soccer teams during the 2010 World Cup.”

Apparently, we Africans have a distressing tendency to support teams from our previous colonial masters, rather than our own neighbours and friends. ”African teams must be higher up in focus,” said Jordaan. ”What we found are the teams selling out are England and Brazil. African teams cannot be ranked by Africans so far below other teams.”

I share Mr Jordaan’s sentiments, from the point of view of being one of the lowly-ranked. Perspective is a wonderful thing. I’m still not sure that most South Africans know what sort of tourist tsunami is about to hit our shores. (And by the way, remember that metaphor I’ve just used — I’ll be discussing it a bit later).

The question of loyalty to a team is a tricky one when your team, not to put too fine a point on it, appears to be heading for an ignominious first-round exit at the greatest tournament in the world. That’s if they can find the exit, of course, which is never a certainty with Safa, the bungling organisation that could serve as a feeder team to the jolly lads over at Athletics SA.

I was reminded of the issue of perspective, and of the problems with supporting smaller teams, in a conversation with the sport news staff at the Mail & Guardian. I might have mentioned this conversation in an earlier column, or a tweet, but it bears repeating.

They were discussing doing an article on ”the minnows of the SA Premier League”, and how they always punched above their weight (that’s how they talk, I promise) in cup competitions. Now, I’m a new boy in town in Johannesburg, having immigrated recently to escape the crime in Cape Town. So, trying to fit in, I said, ”Yes, that’s a good idea. Teams like Mpumalanga Black Aces, or Golden Arrows. Plucky little devils.”

They looked at me as if I was a couple of strikers short of a Bafana Bafana squad. ”No, we mean Ajax Cape Town and Santos.” Ouch. Santos is my team, and I’ve never thought of it as a minnow. Ajax I’ve always hated, viewing it as a factory feeder team for the colonial maw that is Ajax Amsterdam.

Obviously, our sport guys support Orlando Pirates, or the Sea Rats as they’re known (although not by their supporters), and Kaizer Chiefs, the yellow team dressed like KFC (Kaizer Fried Chickens). For them, soccer is a simple, monotheistic religion, with god and the devil. With either Chiefs or Pirates as the devil, depending on who they support.

The upshot of this is that I now have to support two teams locally, both Santos and the previously hated Ajax. Because if I don’t, my victories are few and far between (although it’s not so bad this season, of course). I’m now supporting on the basis of a team coming from the coast. Which is why I’m still saying things like ”tsunami” and ”heading to our coast”. Because, to a Brazilian supporter, South Africa is like Cape Town is to a Pirates supporter — small, insignificant, minnow-like.

We can’t end up supporting England or Brazil or Spain when (sorry, if) Bafana get knocked out early on. Let’s support Ghana or Côte d’Ivoire. Let’s get our snouts out of the trough that is being a Manchester United or Liverpool or Barcelona supporter, and start fighting back on a more limited diet of success. Because when that tsunami hits, if you’re a sad little South African supporting Brazil, you’re going to look like a nun trying to fit in at a strip club.

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