Better late than never

2010-06-10 00:00

I CONFESS to being a late convert to the Bafana Bafana cause. I have not always held much faith that the national football team will go through to the second round.

Such was my lack of faith that I gave my wife the Bafana replica jerseywhich the kind people from one of the team’s sponsors had given me.

It was not because I am lukewarm towards the game. I have always been a football fan. I have been paying to watch the game since I was seven, even against my parents’ approval or knowledge.

Where I could not raise the necessary 50 cents to go through the main gate, I found the security personnel at the grounds willing to slash the ticket price by a hefty 60% (or 30 cents) on condition that I crept in under the Orlando Stadium­ fence.

On other occasions I carried bags for some players, with triple benefits. First, you don’t pay, secondly­,­ you get to literally rub shoulders with professional footballers and more importantly, you get to sit on the touchlines of the ground where, if you are lucky, you could have a star player fall on you.

My indifference to Bafana did not mean that I was as fatalistic about South Africa’s prospects in general and about the future of the national pastime.

There could not be greater proof of eternal optimism than the fact that I support Orlando Pirates­. I expect the club to win the league championship next season as I did last season and the season before.

I also expect the season that starts in August to kill off the so- called jokes about that blessed 1937 institution simply because it has taken a 10-year break from winning trophies.

I am sure that I speak on behalf of the millions of right-thinking South Africans (those happy people­ who see things in black and white) when I say that the mono-poly of the little teams from Tshwane (Pretoria), Mamelodi Something and soulless SuperSport United, will end up with the balance of power being restored to the natural order with Pirates on top and everyone else fighting for the honour of being second after­ us.

Given this obvious unwavering faith in this one body that has disappointed for so long, I have tried to figure out why Bafana Bafana left me so cold.

My conclusion is that I chose to be pessimistic. If I could support Pirates wholeheartedly then I have no business telling anybody about the facts and figures that show why South Africa will not go beyond­ the first round. I am not there yet, but I might, with the passage of time, get myself to even suggest that we can win the damn thing.

It is a tad irritating though to hear a beauty queen who sounds as though she has never watched a single football match shouting how Bafana will beat Mexico 5-0 or some other ridiculous number — even for optimists.

South Africa is where it is because at various points in history we have had a few individuals who treated the phrase “it cannot be done” as a swear word.

I am sure that there were many who asked themselves what the then football supremo Solomon Morewa had been smoking when he announced after the hosting of the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996 that the next step was to host the World Cup.

It was simply not a done thing for a Third World country to gatecrash the football aristocracy party­ by wanting to be part of the action.

Having seen how Mexico dismantled the defending champions Italy as if they were playing Thanda Royal Zulu, logic would dictate that Bafana must expect a beating. But our achievements as a sporting nation have been built on ignoring conventional wisdom.

Take how Pirates went to Abidjan­ on the back of a 2-2 draw against Asec Mimosa in 1995 for what was supposed to be a mere formality of fulfilling a fixture that would end with the local club lifting the trophy before the tens of thousands of their citizens who filled the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium.

It is history that Jerry Sikhosana scored the only goal of that match to confirm Pirates as Champions of Africa in their first attempt. The only southern African­ team to have achieved this feat.

The other Soweto club, known for its garish colours, won something almost similar, but of a far lesser stature. And in keeping with their ways, they did it after scoring a penalty. But I digress.

For South Africa’s sake, I hope that Bafana have greater belief in what they can achieve than I have had.

Hosting the World Cup has come at a great cost especially for the poor, some of whom were made to choose toilets with a view or none at all. Still, I hope that the can-do spirit that has brought the tournament and the Bafana team here, spills over to the rest of us and we are emboldened with belief that we can tackle the more dangerous opponents of national cohesion — poverty and inequality­.

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