SA football needs a Socrates

2011-12-17 15:36

The recent death of Brazilian football great Socrates got me thinking about the precarious state of our own game here at home.

And, no, I am not referring to the rapid decline of the various national teams.

Socrates was not just a great footballer.

He was a medical doctor and critical thinker of the social and political order of his country.

He made the football pitch the site of the struggle for democracy at a time when his country was under a dictatorship.

I look around for a Socrates at home and, except for what some call Doctor Khumalo, can find none.

Instead I find a game that is increasingly becoming an opiate of the masses and developing a chasm between itself and those who follow the sport.

There must surely be something wrong with a football industry that makes the fans, who make up the poorest and most exploited of any sector, buy replica jerseys for R600 and still complain about fake merchandise.

As happens with another opiate, the fans are encouraged to part with big parts of their meagre earnings to show their love and commitment to their clubs.

In the desire for the ridiculous title of being “the number one fan” some supporters spend huge amounts of money they don’t have travelling to far-away stadiums.

Often they use forms of public transport that are not careful about how they get to the ground or, worse, get back home after watching their teams play.

It was not always like this. For a long period in our history, South African football was the sporting manifestation of black life in a changing South Africa.

From the time that Zulu migrant workers founded African Wanderers in 1906 to make sense of the confusion of urban Durban, football was more than just a game.

It is no coincidence that it was football that in 1978 had the first inter-racial professional league with the merger of the white National Football League and the black National Professional Soccer League.

This was in keeping with a tradition that had started more than a decade earlier when Orlando Pirates legend and Jomo Sono’s father Eric Bamuza Sono recruited players like Bernard “Dancing Shoes” Hartze and Mannie “Al Die Hoekies” Davids to Pirates.

By looking at talent rather than the shade of blackness, Pirates defied the idiotic laws that had decreed that black and coloured players could not play against each other, let alone in the same team.

Apartheid had the last word, though, and the players returned to a league meant for “their” people.

Kaizer Chiefs was founded at a time when blacks were challenging how everything in their society worked, including what they thought was the undemocratic way Pirates was being run.

Amakhosi’s gold and black colours are said to have been chosen equally because they were the same as Atlanta Chiefs, whom Kaizer Motaung played for, and because of the gold and black of the fledgling Black Consciousness Movement that had at its heart the restoration of black people’s pride in their being.

Today clubs and the PSL hardly take a stance against xenophobia, yet some of their most prized assets are the same “makwerekwere” that their fans hound out of townships and villages.

When Knowledge Musona was scoring goals for Chiefs and Pirates’ Isaac Chansa scored the goal that won the club the championship, few if any of their xenophobic fans cared that they were Zimbabwean or Zambian.

South African football must find its own Socrates and return the game to the mainstream of everyday life of the ordinary South African, especially those who make the game what it is.

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