Defending football

2010-09-23 00:00

NONE of us who has been interested in current affairs would claim not to have anticipated the reaction to Absa complaining about Currie Cup rugby still being too white. The same applies to the lament by Cricket SA about the dearth of Makhaya Ntinis.

The gut reaction by many is to ask why football is not put under the same pressure. They point out, accurately so, that there are few white players in the professional league clubs and even fewer in the national teams. Based on this alone, you would think that the likes of the neoconservatives such as Afriforum have a case, when they don’t.

Rugby and cricket have had policies of excluding black players. Football has not. That is a fundamental difference. Pretending otherwise is disingenuous and ahistoric. The same race superiority complexes prevented whites keen on football from playing the game.

Afriforum can plant its head in the sand for as long as it wants but we know that one of the reasons we don’t have as many white footballers in South Africa is because white parents through “their” schools have discouraged their children from playing football.

We know, for example, that one of the most accomplished players of the modern era, Mark Fish, would have been lost to the game had he accepted the dictate that his school, Pretoria Boys’ High School, did not allow football.

In some cases, the anti-football establishment described the beautiful game as a sport for “moffies” with so-called real men playing rugby and gentlemen playing cricket.

Roy Wegerle — who represented the United States in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups — was, with his brothers Geoff and Steve, threatened with expulsion from Pretoria Boys’ for being unavailable for rugby training because of his football commitments.

The anti-footballers did not stop there. They lobbied their town councils to prevent football from being played in “their” areas. So clubs like Arcadia Shepherds — incidentally a white club in Tshwane (as opposed to Pretoria) — became wanderers in their own back yards as they could not use the Caledonian Stadium because it brought too many blacks to the nice little white suburb.

Before long, the club folded. The same scenario played itself out in Cape Town in the Premier Soccer League era with Ajax Cape Town being effectively banned from using the Newlands Stadium apparently because they attracted too many unwashed tsotsis to the neighbourhood.

Contrary to the self-salving myth that football is not being put under the same pressure, the facts show that football has long opened its doors and does not need political or commercial encouragement to do the right thing.

For example, if Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows win their semi-final matches this weekend, they will play against each other in a major cup final for the first time in 30 years. But more important than a Pirates win, will be that it will remind those who care to know that it was one Andy “Jesus” Karajinsky, a white South African of Greek origin, who, as captain that afternoon, lifted the trophy on Pirates’ behalf.

Also on that day, for Swallows, one Phil Venter became the first white player from the then National Football Association, to play for a black side when in 1978 he joined Pirates before crossing over to Swallows.

Keith Broad, who turned out for Pirates that day, followed when he left Wits University for Pirates. Others like Lucky Stylianou joined Kaizer Chiefs to continue a trend that has gone on for at least 32 years.

In the midlands in particular the likes of Brummie de Leur and Basil Hollister were heroes in Hammarsdale for their antics in African Wanderers shirts.

Around the same time, Dennis Wicks, Andy Stanton, Kevin Mudie and Lawrence Chelin made Durban City the most consistent team of the mid-eighties until, like Arcadia, the team died because their fans did not believe they were safe among the natives because the likes of Afriforum forebears had fed them volk tales about how dangerous the darkies were.

Unperturbed by these scary stories, Ernie Wallace and Mark Tovey became the bedrock of the Durban Bushbucks side that, together with Mayfair Rangers (yes, a white team) took over from where the “Banana City Boys” had left off. It did not end there. While some of our compatriots were treating Matthew Booth as an oddity, some even suggesting that he was in the 2010 World Cup squad to add colour, facts will show that he was captain of the Olympic team that played and beat Brazil at the Sydney Olympics. His presence in the national team had nothing to do with his whiteness and his failure to make the team was owed to no other reason than the coach preferring a different central defence pairing.

Neil Tovey is probably the only caucasian man to lift the Africa Cup of Nations trophy. Again, it was not reverse affirmative action. Tovey had previously captained AmaZulu and was Kaizer Chiefs’ skipper at the time.

There is no question that local football could do with a few more white players and not just for political reasons, but before Afriforum and its chommies get excited about how “they” want to take “their” game away from them while “they” keep theirs, some reality checks are in order.

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