Pressing Issues: Oh, the places you’ll go as a seasoned football journo

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S'Busiso Mseleku
S'Busiso Mseleku

Last week, I wrote about my wishes for the domestic football season, which starts on Saturday.

That column was all about looking forward. In contrast, this week had me feeling nostalgic as I found myself looking back to where it all began for me in this career.

I recalled entering the newsroom of what was then the Ilanga Lase Natal (now Ilanga) newspaper for the first time.

All the faces had come across at the time – more than three decades ago now – came alive in my mind’s eye.

I recalled the old subeditor. He wore a “pair of glasses” (I use the term liberally: his spectacles had glass on one side and an empty space on the other), yet always peered over the rim when talking to anyone.

He reminded me of my high school principal and, on first encountering him, the thought that immediately sprang to mind was: “I don’t want to be in the newsroom until I’m his age.”

He was frail and looked well older than 70.

That image has stayed with me and, unfortunately, every time the word “sub” – which is short for subeditor – is mentioned, I can’t help but see his face.

I also remembered how we journalists had to dart across town from the Ilanga offices, which were located next to Durban’s train station, to catch a taxi from the city centre to get to what was then De Wet Nel Stadium – now King Zwelithini Stadium – in Umlazi to cover a match featuring the Durban Bush Bucks team. We had to do that trip at breakneck speed.

Then, after the match, it was a rush back to the office to write the report on a typewriter, with the sports editor breathing down our necks.

Today’s journalists listen with amusement when I describe how, in those days, we would type on paper – and, come deadline time, the section editor would rip the page out of the typewriter to take it to the feared subs for editing.

You had to have a sharp memory to know what you had written in the previous paragraph to ensure that the story would flow.

I remember one of my first assignments. I had to interview a big shot from Johannesburg who owned a professional football club playing in what was then the National Professional Soccer League.

We had agreed to meet the day after their match, played against AmaZulu, at his beachfront hotel at 10am for a sit-down interview.

Imagine my shock when, after being sent up to his room, he opened the door in his birthday suit and told me point-blank that he could no longer do the interview as he was preparing to “fly back to Jozi”.

Imagine the hurt and embarrassment I felt, not only at losing out on what was going to be one of my first big scoops, but also at the disrespect and temerity of the man to come to the door stark naked.

Remember, I was still a young urchin, fresh out of school and without even a sign of a beard, but determined to conquer the world.

The sight of a naked adult was foreign to me, and was the last thing I expected to see on assignment.

Another memory is of the embarrassment I felt at being dismissed outright after I asked a thorny question at a National Soccer League presser soon after moving to Johannesburg – because I was not “een van die ouens”.

One of the scariest moments of my life happened during my tenure at a daily newspaper in Johannesburg at the height of the A and B team football conflict.

I found myself in a derelict house on a disused farm in the south of Johannesburg, being grilled by one of the groups about a few stories I had written.

That I got away with my life intact is thanks to a football official, who rocked up unexpectedly and happened to not be part of the plot to “deal with him”.

After that ordeal, I penned an article that started thus: “There is a farm in Devland with a dilapidated house where football matters are discussed and decided upon ...”

I’m sure you can dig it out of the archives if you are interested in more detail. Or, if you are the patient type, you can wait to read all about it in a book in the not-so-distant future.

Covering some of the first international matches after South Africa was accepted into the global football family in 1992 was something else; the tears that rolled down my cheeks as Bafana Bafana won the Africa Cup of Nations trophy at FNB Stadium in 1996; the unbridled joy when Sepp Blatter opened that envelope and pronounced: “Ze two sousand and ten veld cup vill be held im Sous Africa!”

Oh! Pele didn’t baptise it “the beautiful game” for nothing.

As the cowboys say, so long.

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