Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bafana fever is contagious but I think there's a cure

When England played South Africa in the group stage of the 2007 Rugby World Cup and lost 36-0, I was the only one in the bar with an England shirt on. I got some abuse, a lot of banter and some free drinks in sympathy. A year later, I was back in the same bar with the same shirt on as England lost 6-42 to the Springboks. Cue more abuse and banter (not sure if I had drinks bought for me that time). In both cases, the bar was packed and the atmosphere was raucous. The vast majority of the clientelle in both cases were white, middle class South Africans. In between these games, Bafana embarked on their disasterous 2008 African Nations campaign, getting knocked out in the first round. I watched a couple of these at the same bar but both times it was virtually empty. Only myself, a couple of waiters and a car guard sat and watched the games. Fiercely patriotic for the rugby, ambivelent at best when it came to the football. This neatly fitted into the stereotypes of sport in the country; rugby for white, middle class men (predominantly Afrikaans) and football for the black working class.

Although I had initially planned to watch the Uruguay game at the fan park in the centre of Jo'burg, I chickened out due to the sub-zero temperatures so I decided to return to this bar to see if Bafana fever had infected even the most rugby-hardened areas. It had. It wasn't packed like for the rugby but it was still a lot busier than those January evenings two years ago. More of a mixed crowd than I found for the rugby, nobody sang the national anthem but there were a couple of guys blowing vuvuzelas inside, which grated on me. It was a more low-key affair than what I experienced in Soweto but the fans still got behind their team. Howls of disbelief met the penalty decision but once the game was over, the atmosphere was flat. Whether people will be back for the Bafana v France game remains to be seen but when the Tri Nations rugby returns next month, that place will be packed once more with Springbok fans. Business as usual.

The vuvuzelas have all but stopped, as if in mourning. The hype of Bafana has been shown to be just that. Many are bitter towards the referee but there is much feeling that Bafana have let people down considering that they promised so much. If the talk yesterday was that of Bafana uniting the nation, the drubbing has disappointed a nation. Bafana fever will disappear as quickly as it emerged.

The front and back pages of The Star and the Sowetan this morning describing the disappointment of the night before

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