Duane Heath

On two wings and a prayer

2004-08-13 08:27

The airport coffee shop from where I write this is playing a song called Daydream Believer by a band whose name escapes me just for the moment.

But the title of the song couldn't be more apt for I, too, am daydreaming as I sit waiting for Kulula.com flight MN whatever from Cape Town to Johannesburg. But it's not the first time I feel like I do right now.

Nine years ago, on June 23, 1995, I sat with my brother in the departures lounge of Durban International. Back then, of course, how could we not feel a sense of disbelief at our final destination, and the way we had turned daydreams into reality?

I've never been poorer in my life than when I was while waiting for my July paycheque that wonderful winter nearly a decade ago. I'd spent R1 700 on two tickets for Warren and I to watch the Springboks beat Australia in the opening match of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in Cape Town.

A few weeks later we were at it again, raiding the piggy bank for the privilege of getting drenched in Durban during the semi-final against France. But boy was it worth it. I recall a conversation with one of my colleagues on the Monday after the match, in which I said (in all seriousness) that I'd love to watch the final as well. But, I added, I had finally come to my senses and was quitting this rugby habit while I could still afford to pay the rent.

Of course it didn't happen that way, and somewhere between the Monday and the Friday, I lost the plot completely. It was a great time to be a little crazy.

Most emotionally draining match

All I know is that, on the afternoon of Saturday, June 24, 1995, Warren and I were watching the World Cup final - the final! - not from our parents' lounge on the Natal South Coast, but from two seats, each costing R1 000, high on the southern stand at Ellis Park.

Even today, nearly ten years on, I find that words fail me when I try to describe my feelings as the final whistle went and South Africa became world champions. I just remember thinking it was the most emotionally draining match I had ever watched - the complete opposite of the carnival-like atmosphere that dominated the opening triumph - and by 21:00 that night I was fast asleep.

But back to airports. Since those halcyon days of 1995, I've found myself sipping coffee and watching the planes come and go in some far-flung airports on my way to significant events in my life - everywhere from Addis Ababa (my first overseas trip) and Stockholm to Copenhagen (to play in a sevens tournament). And I've never failed to feel thrilled to be amongst all that energy that airports - and the people who come and go in them - bring.

But I've never been an excited about a trip as I am right now, sitting here at Cape Town International, as I prepare, once again, to go to Ellis Park, for a match between the Springboks and the All Blacks.

It's only Friday, but already my stomach is in a knot. Every night this week, I've dreamed of the Boks (last night, they won 9-8, in a match in which the Kiwis gave up and walked off). I'm 22 years old all over again - and it feels great.

Realisation of a boyhood dream

The difference this time round, as opposed to 1995, is that I won't be attending the match as a fan. I'll be working, watching the game with the eyes of a journalist, filing a match report the minute the final whistle goes, and reporting on what Jake White says at the after-match press conference. For me, covering this match is the realisation of a boyhood dream.

But, more than anything else, my return to Ellis Park will represent the closing of a circle that opened up with Joel Stransky's drop goal.

It was then, as that ball sailed through the posts, that I realised my life had just changed forever, that my passion for this game ran far deeper than I had previously thought, that it not only scratched the surface of my soul, but actually touched raw nerves on the way there.

Even as the All Blacks fought back desperately in those frantic final seconds, I knew that his stranglehold rugby had on me wasn't just going to loosen its grip without a fight.

I was always going to return to Ellis Park, but what were the chances that it would be for a repeat of the best day of my life?

Send Duane your views on this column.

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