We all miss the 2010 World Cup and all the magic that it brought, but I must admit, my allegiance towards my own country was non-existent, so much so that I bet against them making it past the group stages, and in doing so made quite a good bit of money. I dusted off my Holland shirts as opposed to the green and yellow of the national team, although it must be added that I was not doing this due to the huge support that the Dutch side was getting from the locals in South Africa given our countries history, rather, I’ve been a supporter of the team since the days of Kluivert and Jaap Staam, and have always supported the boys in orange at any large international event. This did get me thinking though, why do people have such a negative image towards South African football as a whole? Both club and international? choosing rather to spend our time watching real footballers in Europe or other parts of the world. And why is South Africa unable to get into the same bracket as teams such as Nigeria, Ghana or Cote d’Ivoire?
I’ve decided to look into this a little closer, although I should probably add the disclaimer that what I write happens to be a very romantic analysis of South African football, in the sense that it is an analysis of the surface of SA football and not a classic, in depth investigation into the problems of the sport in this country. This article is just a further pursuit of trying to understand why South Africa is first of all so poor at the game, and then why loyalty of the local teams is so small, and finally, how can this all be improved upon in the years to come.
I think like any story we need to start at the very beginning, getting our youngster the right education, yes it would appear that education is the solution for just about everything and football is no different, the government needs to create better facilities that will provide especially for those who can otherwise not afford quality equipment and education. A friend of mine and a large Orlando Pirates supporter, made a very good point in saying that the lack of Government funded academies in the country is a very large reason for the underdevelopment of South African footballers at a young age, and I couldn’t agree more, natural ability, which South African youngsters have in abundance, but academies will go further by harnessing energy and teaching good fundamental and discipline, something that South Africa players seem to know very little about. Personally I would enjoy seeing more emphasis placed on better fitness and finishing than well choreographed celebrations, understandable I suppose, given that our teams find it difficult to score goals in the first place.
It is however difficult to be positive towards our local players, one fears that even given the facilities, the rotten attitudes of most South Africans usually prevents us from actually grasping onto opportunities when it seems easier to make excuses and play for a pay check that is delivered whether we win or lose. In an article written by Melissa Reddy where she emphasizes that arrogance is our greatest issue, she skillfully points out South Africa’s ability to always find an excuse or someone to blame in failure:
In defeat we look for scapegoats rather than solutions. Aaron Mokoena, Benni McCarthy, Joel Santana, Modise, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Bongani Khumalo, Serero, Josephs … There is a steady stream of villains for Bafana. If it were finger-pointing and not football, then we really would be the best on the continent.
I agree with her completely when she adds that having Jacob Zuma or Danny Jordaan in the dressing room after a victory to talk the team up after only one victory at the beginning of a competition, should be saved for when or rather if we can get to the final.
This is however an opinion based on my time playing high school football and what I’ve heard from people that are involved with the game in a professional capacity.What I find is something of a paradox similar to that of the ideal state in Plato’s Republic, to mold the Philosophy king, we require a state ruled by a Philosophy king, to mold South African footballers into players with respect for the game, themselves and other while being taught important fundamentals of the game, we require them to have these virtues in the first place in order to make the most of the facilities and not turn away when things get difficult, but perhaps I’m not giving my countrymen enough credit.
I understand that South Africa is a power house in sports such as Rugby and Cricket, something that powerful footballing countries such as Brazil, Portugal and Spain do not have, meaning that one can say that funds will be more available for football in these countries, perhaps meaning that South Africa can get away with being a below average footballing nation as long as we excel in the other two sports. But surely this can’t be good enough, that we would more readily don the green and gold of the Springboks and Proteas but much rather prefer the colours of Spain, England and Holland at international level, and the colours of Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid or Inter Milan at club level? When does our loyalty disappear? My personal answer is at an early age when I was watching Ryan Giggs tear everyone apart while sitting on the lap of my great uncle, so I think I would take a guess in saying that South African football is still a black South African sport in this country. A majority of the largest stadiums of the teams are located in the township, which is certainly not territory that many non-black South Africans will feel at home at, and I will go as far as saying that South African football seems to be catering to only one group of South Africans, from the rituals in the locker rooms that still seem to be in affect according to my pro football acquaintances, all the way to team selection, which seems to have no quota system in affect that a sport like rugby has. These are certainly not players that are just placed into the side because of their skin colour, many non-white rugby players have earned there stripes as quality rugby players, and yet its incredibly difficult to find any white or non-black South African footballers. I refuse to accept that it’s because they are not good enough, I truly think they are, but more and more of them feel unaccepted in a sport that is only catering to a select group, namely black South Africans, and that as much money can be earned by becoming a lawyer or an accountant, many even prove good enough to go overseas and only play for South Africa because that’s the only way they can say that they went to a World Cup, it certainly isn’t going to happen with another team.
Perhaps this is a gross generalization, but having spoken to non-black footballers who displayed far better ability and discipline on the pitch, left the game due to the biased selection and rituals, that included urinating on their jerseys or hiring a sangoma to bless the posts or team, failure to abide by these rituals resulted in them becoming pariahs.
So socially what is the solution? While I’ve mentioned that government payed academies that pay for a youngsters education in both life and football can be a possible solution, what is the social solution to developing greater local pride for our club sides and international team? The solution is hard to find, but the ideal situation would be a balanced environment that caters to all South Africans, this will naturally be met with opposition as it would mean that South Africans in the poorer areas would not be able to enjoy their local sides live, but perhaps shuttle services to main stadiums and a quota system of sorts to get more non-black footballers on the pitch would encourage more non-black South Africans to feel a kind of connection with the local teams. The balance between the natural flair and ability of black South Africans, and the technical skills by the others could create a greater football team. I refuse to accept that this is impossible, sitting at a rugby game, listening to a black South African female cheering for the Cheetahs and seeing a greater diversity at rugby games than at football games, serves as some evidence that improvement is possible.
Once again, this is a very opinion based, romantic analysis of what appears at the surface, I understand that there are many complex cogs that make up this machine and that things are not always as simple to change, but the reality is that South African football will always be catering to one group of people, while the rest of us will support the English, Spanish or Italian sides, even at local games when South Africa is playing. Would love to hear other opinions as far as this is concerned.