My blood forever maroon and white

2011-06-25 15:55

We are packed in my father’s Nissan E20 minibus, which is painted in the maroon-and-white colours of Moroka Swallows. Even the two round stickers on the top of the rear window and the long, rectangular one in the middle declaring “Don’t Follow Me, Follow The Birds”, attest to the fact that this is the unofficial carrier of the faithful, die-hard supporters of the boys from Dube.

We are outside Orlando Stadium in Soweto. It’s the early 80s. I’m just a wide-eyed little boy in shorts and and a T-shirt.

In the minibus, I am surrounded by old men dressed in maroon blazers and matching caps, wiping the sweat from their brows in disappointment. Swallows have lost again – in their own backyard, nogal – to Durban’s Bush Bucks.

Their voices echo through, some are angry, even. One says Thomas Hlongwane cost Swallows the game. If only he had taken the shot instead of passing to Congo Malebane.

Another blames it all on goalkeeper Gavin Easthorpe, saying Mlungisi Ngubane would never have scored from outside the penalty area if he had stayed on the goal-line.

They start smiling once the conversation turns to how master dribbler Joel “Ace” Mnini turned that defender inside out, put the ball through the legs of another and fired a shot that almost found the target.

Their voices are raised in animation as they talk about how Aubrey “The Great” Makgopela played like a computer in the midfield, and how Aaron “Roadblock” Makhathini cleared the ball off the line to prevent what was a sure goal.

This scenario repeats itself ad nauseum each time we travel to watch Swallows play in Witbank, Vaal Reefs, George Goch, Thokoza, everywhere.

Sometimes, when results don’t go the way of the Beautiful Birds, things get a little heated.

I dream of running out onto the Orlando pitch in the maroon and white someday. But right now, I’m just a little boy in love with my father’s club.

The old men in maroon blazers are, like my father James, card-carrying Swallows supporters. I envy them in their uniforms. While I only have a maroon headband and cap, my father’s entire life is maroon and white – his car, socks, trousers, blazer, jersey, shirts, caps, umbrella and ties.

Even my mother, Maria, a Kaizer Chiefs supporter, is forced to buy maroon-and-white bedding.

In turn, Swallows becomes my world. I sulk when they lose. When they win, I feel like a bird in flight.

In the late 80s, when Swallows’ fortunes began to dwindle and I began to discover myself, I flirted with Kaizer Chiefs.

My two older brothers never stopped reminding me that George Goch, Swallows’ home ground, looks just as old as the old men who support the team.

They even rub it in by boasting that Ellis Park, the beloved Kaizer Chiefs home ground, boasts a massive colour screen while George Goch doesn’t even have a scoreboard to talk about.

They even brag about their team’s impressive trophy cabinet and how Swallows never win anything. But my blood is maroon and white, and a Swallow I remain.

However, supporting Swallows comes at a price.

It is almost like raising a child with learning disabilities. You do not disown your child simply because his peers are making better progress at school.

Instead, you keep encouraging, hoping that someday your own blood will also come through. Sometimes you lose your cool, but in time you realise this doesn’t help.

I’ve waited patiently as the times changed, watching time and circumstances relegate Swallows into a relic from a glorious past.

While other teams rebranded, went on recruiting drives for new generations of supporters and amassed millions of rands in sponsorships, becoming household names in the process, Swallows clung onto past glories: the Mainstay Cup victory of 1983, and the Bob Save Superbowl in 1989 and 1991.

Even though Swallows got some silverware in the form of the Absa Cup in 2004 and the Nedbank Cup in 2009, the taunts and ridicule just never stopped. At times, I’m made to feel like a faded Swallows jersey from the 1980s when people ask how on earth a reasonably bright young man like myself could support such a team.

I’ve been forced to watch newcomers to the big game overtake Swallows, like a child who fails his grades, to make their mark as powerhouses in the modern game.

Back in the days when I travelled with the old men in blazers, it was unthinkable for Swallows to dabble with relegation.

Well, most of those old men in blazers from my boyhood, just like my own father, have gone the way of all flesh. But I remain and patiently I wait, hoping that someday my beloved Moroka Swallows will rise again.

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