Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"We're not really a soccer nation". Er, yes you are...

Even on a non-football related trip to the Kruger National Park for a few days away from the chaos of Johannesburg, I couldn't escape the aftermath of the World Cup. Aside from seeing large plastic footballs adorning signposts, even as we entered the Orpen Gate into Kruger and seeing the majestic Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit stand empty, one man struck a nerve.

Stopping off in the tourist town of Dullstrom (apparently it's the place to go fly fishing), my fellow road tripper Dan and I were having a quiet drink and a well deserved break when an Afrikaans man came up to chat to us. Unsurprisingly, we got onto the topic of the World Cup. Much had been made before the World Cup over whether Afrikaners would support the tournament and the team but in this instance, such fears seemed unfounded. Having gone to his first football match, the pre-tournament warm up between Portugal and Mozambique in Jo'burg, he was enthusiastic about watching more when he suggested that he might start to follow Manchester United. I didn't have the energy to question why he would choose an English team over a South African one. I had just driven 300 km at that point. Didn't Afrikaners hate the English? They have good reason (after all the Brits invented concentration camps). But then Man Utd is not just an English team but a global brand. Why not choose a local team, although I'm not sure he would have known who his local team was (Mpumalanga Black Aces of the PSL for those who were wondering). 

It was when he said "We're not really a soccer nation" that I had to bite my tongue. If he was referring to an Afrikaner nation, then I could understand although even within this group of South Africans there is a footballing history. However I got the impression that he was referring to South Africa as whole. Instead of jumping headfirst into an argument and pointing out to him that soccer (as it is called here) is actually the most popular sport in the country by far, historically and currently, I just smiled and nodded. It was far easier.

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