A night at Harry Gwala

2010-02-19 00:00

IF you weren’t at The Game* this week, then you definitely missed out. Forget rugby, cricket or canoeing (all sports I actually understand) because if you are not taking an interest in our local soccer team then you’re just not cool.

I am soccer illiterate. There, you have it. Lungani Zama said that I had to clear the air about it or else he would in his Armchair Expert column. I am also an amateur vuvuzelaist. But I’m making progress; more so than in my limited understanding of the game. No matter.

With my Maritzburg United makaraba, my blue overalls and my yellow (Chiefs, I think) vuvuzela, I whipped our gifted sports writer and myself off to The Game this week.

A lot about the evening was an education for me: learning more about the game, the rituals and the politics surrounding soccer and our team.

For readers unfamiliar with soccer (I know, we are a select few), the only way to learn about it is by watching it live and asking questions. It really helps. Just don’t take Zama.

“Why were we penalised?” I asked. Uncontrollable laughter followed. “Are you being serious?” “Um, yes I am.” An irritating smirk preceded his answer: “He lifted his foot off the ground as he threw the ball in.” Thanks. That wasn’t so hard.

There are so many rituals in soccer that a sociologist would have a field day. Zama pointed to a fellow munching on a loaf of bread. It wasn’t simply a meal, according to our Armchair Expert. “Fans like to eat their ‘daily bread’ at a match to symbolise their team eating the other team on the field.” I know Sharks fans enjoy their daily beer crate, but if you do go to a United match, don’t forget that half loaf.

Another ritual involves the use of a vuvuzela­. There have been endless complaints about this plastic device. But really, they aren’t that bad. Not compared to the mini vuvuzela, which makes a Donald Duck type of cacophony.

“That would make a great tool for duck hunting,” one fan remarked. Eish. It took me a while to make music (if you can call it that) with my vuvu, and my friends were often seen hanging their heads in shame while I attempted to get into the swing of things.

Mechanic Paul Watson, who got himself into the paper (and again today) and on to SuperSport Blitz with his Weekend Witness makaraba, was converted by The Game and has become an ardent United fan.

“The atmosphere at rugby is nothing­ compared to this,” the equally soccer illiterate remarked. “I’m definitely buying season tickets.”

If he can be converted, well, no one stands a chance.

Looking critically at the R87-million revamped Harry Gwala Stadium, it can be seen in two respects: the glass half full perspective or half empty. It’s great how it is, but with the money that was spent on it, it should have been a lot better. The roof over our heads was awesome (well, I was at the interesting point where the water just drips over the edge), but the opposing stands had no roof at all.

The fan club observed a few missing details that could help improve things at Harry Gwala. Because The Game was more than sold out — an estimate of 12 000 supporters was given for a stadium with a 10 700 capicity — extra temporary stands behind the goals would have done wonders to complete the circle of vuvuzelas.

There are signs indicating vendor points under the stands, but instead of being used, entrepreneurs stand outside with their trestle tables selling hot dogs. As Zama pointed out, “everyone’s bringing their own food inside. There should be people walking around selling hot dogs.”

Preceding the game, a group of cheerleaders went onto the field to attempt a dance of sorts. I didn’t want to be rude, but Zama could: “The guys dancing in front of us here are more co-ordinated than that lot. Compared to the Sharks girls …”

That franchise, however, has a lot more experience and cash. It is hoped that in time, these small improvements will add to an already awesome venue.

Ah, but The Game. As Marc Strydom wrote, Maritzburg United were “playing like men possessed” and there “only ever seemed to be one team who would win on the night”. When I dashed up the stands to see him after the victory, the die-hard fans still dancing away, I asked him if he had started writing yet.

“No, no… I’m too excited. Isn’t this atmosphere incredible?” It certainly was. Sport writer Jonathan Cook, standing behind a shield of glass in the VIP box, held up a piece of paper with something scribbled on it: “I predicted 2-1 to us.” He smiled.

Later in the bar, as I sat down to revel in the victory, I turned to Zama.

“Wow, those two tries were awesome.”

Yeah, I have a long way to go.

* The Maritzburg United 2-1 domination of the Pirates receives the rare privilege of being referred to in capitals to emphasise its legend.

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