Time to join the party

2009-06-06 00:00

HARRISMITH, the Steers at Montrose, 11.37 pm. Destination heal the nation. Perhaps.

June 24, 1995, around 5.30 pm. Most people remember where they were at the moment the referee blew the final whistle to signal the Springboks had won the Rugby World Cup.

I was in a pub in Kloof and in a suitable state of inebriation for a student in those circumstances. Of course, that was a momentous day in South African history, and not just sportingly so.

Harrismith, 11.49 pm. On the TV in a replay of a Wits-Pirates game, Teko Modise has just produced a mouth-smacking dummy on the left byline and delivered a perfect cross that Benson Mhlongo buried at the far post.

What a player Modise could be for Bafana Bafana at the Confederations Cup!

Back to Kloof. I remember watching, startled, on the news that evening the celebrations in townships around the country. Remember, just three years previously, rugby had covered itself in shame when the crowd at Ellis Park spontaneously sung Die Stem ahead of a Test against New Zealand.

Harrismith, 5.40 am — had to get some sleep. The life of a disorganised sports journo.

There were two other significant days in sport that, unlike 1995, somehow largely seemed to go unnoticed by part of the population, namely white people.

On February 3, 1996 Bafana Bafana won the African Nations Cup on home soil in front of 90 000 people at FNB Stadium. The streets of Jo’burg were easily as jubilant as they had been in 1995. The party on Rockey Street did not stop until the sun came up.

On August 16, 1997, 95 000 people crammed FNB as Phil Masinga’s lone 18th-minute strike had to be defended against a determined Congo and South Africa qualified for their first World Cup.

With 20 minutes to go, 95 000 people realised the Congolese weren’t going to score twice and a stadium erupted in a prolonged kaleidoscope of colour and noise that remains the most remarkable thing I have seen. The stomping of feet in the stand above our heads made the few metres of concrete above the press room seem like the canvas of a drum.

I remember calling my then girlfriend at Rhodes University that evening to find out if she’d watched. No, she said, it had been the intervarsity rugby game against UPE … no one had watched. To me this seems the crux of the matter in regard to South African soccer being viewed as an inferior sport to cricket and rugby. Apart, of course, from Bafana admittedly being an object of some embarrassment for the last decade. (Then again rugby and cricket have had their low points too — remember Kamp Staaldraad, and football has certainly never had a Hansie Cronje. Soccer’s shady characters are far more overt).

The two greatest moments in football’s history in this country largely went unnoticed by white people.

You could add a third great moment that couldn’t slip under the radar — clearly, the moment Sepp Blatter lifted the piece of paper out of an envelope with “South Africa” emblazoned on it was historic.

As the Confederations Cup kicks off next Sunday at Ellis Park with the game between South Africa and Iraq, finally the reality will begin to sink in that this country will host the Fifa World Cup in 2010.

So much bollocks has been spouted since the World Cup was awarded to South Africa. The stadiums would not be good enough. The stadiums would not be ready. The stadiums would collapse. The Gautrain would spill off its rails. The airports would fall into the sea. Why?

Why, just because it’s soccer, which is mostly played and administered by black people, was everything going to be a disaster? Where was the spirit of reconciliation, the excitement and the magnanimity displayed in the townships in 1995, and again in 2007? To some extent where is it still now?

Yes, Bafana remain problematic. The passion of 1996 and 1997, and professionalism and drive of their cricket and rugby counterparts, just does not seem to be there. The team were getting somewhere under Carlos Parreira but Joel Santana has increasingly looked like a lame duck, and has not managed yet to inspire confidence in the players, media or public. But with his excuses and strange selections, Santana has revealed a stubborn streak that belies a fighter’s nature. It’s clutching at straws a little, but perhaps this will shine through in the Confed.

The talent — of players like Modise, Steven Pienaar, Elrio van Heerden, Bernard Parker, Tshepo Masilela and Kagisho Dikgacoi — is there; it just needs to be galvanised. Hopefully playing in front of big home crowds at the Confed, something Bafana have not experienced for a while, can spark something. Again, it’s clutching at straws, but hey, that also adds to the suspense.

One thing’s for certain, the Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup will be a heck of a party (although this will be watered down somewhat for KZN for the Confed because the province is not a host).

For conservative white South Africa the decision is whether to remain sitting behind a fence, or join in.

Harrismith, Protea Hotel Montrose, 6.13 am. Bafana training in Johannesburg is at 10 am. Quick shower, breakfast, and let’s get this show on the road.

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