Saturday, 24 October 2009

Post match analysis

In some ways going to a football (soccer to South Africans) match here is like going to a game in the UK; in others it is a world apart. Traffic seems perpetually heavy in Joburg but the approach to the stadium is extra slow. Shepherd and Becki found a way to get to within a half mile of the stadium and the parking guys tried to turn them back. I suspect that they pointed to us in the back of the car because suddenly a traffic cone was moved and we were ushered into a spot a short walk away. The Orlando ground itself is surrounded by tin shacks and is in the heart of Soweto. It seems crude to make comparisons to the UK but White Hart Lane's situation amongst some of the shoddiest housing in London resonated a little. One thing that is different is the ticket price. Whereas most of those in Tottenham living in the council houses that surround the Lane would be unlikely to afford the 40 odd quid for a ticket the 20 Rand we paid (about £1.80) is reachable by a lot of people who live in what we would consider abject poverty.

The ground was impressive. Pretty much an all-seater stadium, the capacity is about 35-40,000. It was less than half full but most of the chiefs fans were bunched into our side of the ground along with a few hundred Swallows supporters so the atmosphere was still outstanding. Fufuzellas were being blown on the approach, while we were searched and throughout the match. Chiefs supporters continued to blow them even in defeat after the game. I saw one fight in the ground. It was pretty brutal and, as is often the case in the UK, the police sauntered up after it had dissipated.

Our mate at the hotel was right when he said we'd be the only 2 white faces in the crowd. There were (literally) more white people on the pitch than on the terraces. One of them was a German centre back for the swallows; he must have been a good 3-4 stone overweight. It was like watching one of those celebrity matches where Johnny Vegas or Peter Kaye dons a tight fitting shirt and huffs and puffs around for half an hour. We did get some odd looks but the unifying power of football meant that all my conversations with people around me were about the match. When I leaped up from my seat after a dodgy referring decision shouting 'he got the ball!' a bloke behind me slapped my shoulder and did the three stage hand shake thing that I still haven't fully mastered.

Constant dancing behind each goal added colour to a game that was in part skillful and fast and in part naive and unsophisticated. The close control and passing was at times first rate but the defending (especially from the Chiefs who I am told sacked their entire back line recently and now have 4 players who don't know what the others are doing) was appalling. The first goal for Swallows looked offside from where I was and I was told the following morning that TV replays from a hundred angles confirmed this. The Chiefs goal was a 25 yard effort from outside the 'D' and would have graced any Match of the Day montage. After Swallows second goal the Chief tried to pile on the pressure and at one point the owners son (named Kaiser) missed an absolute sitter in front of goal. The crowd was brutal. To a person (apart from the many babies swaddled and strapped to their mothers) the Chiefs fans did the 'get him off' signal (hands circling backwards around each other) until the coach relented.

Half time food was a slab of beef on 'Pap' which is like stodgy rice or porridge with veg and a tomato and chilli salad. I'd eat that every time over a White Hart Lane pie.

At the Lane you stand in queues behind a chosen urinal if you need to pee and basically wait your turn. the system at the Orlando stadium is similar though the blokes there squeeze two to a urinal which was a little disconcerting.

We were warned to be careful but I have to say that I never felt in the slightest bit threatened. It was exciting and perhaps a little edgy but you get that in a crowd anywhere. Few white people in SA are interested in the league soccer here. They focus on La Liga, The EPL or the Italian league. They can't helped themselves when it comes to 'Bafana Bafana' (the national team) but by and large there is an anxiety about being part of something that is so essentially a part of black South Africa. It too a long time for black and Asian people to feel comfortable attending English games though they, of course, had good reason to feel intimidated. I hope that white South Africans can start to get involved to an extent though not to the point where they take over.

The journey home enabled us to talk about the game, slag off the players and agree on men of the match. The guys stopped for a coke at the hotel and we carried on the footy themed conversation. It doesn't matter if you're talking Zulu or English; when it comes to football a dive is still a dive, offside is still offside and a crappy ref is still a crappy ref. Football is a language that people understand all over the world.

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