Photo by Marc Fletcher http://imbiza.matrix.msu.edu/?p=173
Quinton Fortune played seven seasons with Manchester United and 46 times for South Africa. On September 23, he wrote an excellent piece in The Guardian about a topic dear to me and to many readers of this blog: the impact of the 2010 World Cup on the growth and development of South African football.
Given the billions of rands spent on new and revamped stadiums and transport infrastructure, Fortune asks, was hosting the tournament a boon for the local game? “Judging by the poor attendances at top-flight games not involving the country’s two most popular clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, who are also by far the most powerful in financial terms, and the poor performances of the national team Bafana Bafana, the answer unfortunately has to be a resounding ‘no’,” Fortune writes.
His concerns are numerous, important, and inter-related. The World Cup, Fortune asserts, did nothing to alter the Chiefs-Pirates duopoly, which continues to capture the lion’s share of the attention from fans, media, and sponsorship money. He points out that the quality of play in the Premier Soccer League is not terribly good, as evidenced by last year’s top scorer, Bernard Parker, boasting a meager 10 goals.
Fortune then notes how the swanky World Cup stadiums in Cape Town, Nelspruit, Polokwane, and Port Elizabeth are now massive financial drains on local municipalities struggling to deal with many pressing social needs in perhaps the most unequal country in the world.
The former Man United midfielder does not spare the PSL’s satellite broadcaster, SuperSport, which bankrolls the South African league while offering 24/7 matches and highlights of European football (such as EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Champions League). This contradiction is another reason why the PSL is “losing fans who prefer to watch the football from the comfort of their homes, receiving high definition pictures, while also having a choice of watching (better quality) football from other parts of the world,” says Fortune.
The way forward, Fortune concludes, requires harnessing South Africa’s world-class infrastructure and abundance of football talent to forge “a well-planned development programme which will develop that talent into realising its full potential.” How this should be done is the challenging part.
Juan Agudelo — six days shy of his 18th birthday — scored the only goal of the game in the 84th minute and spoiled a massive party in Cape Town. 51,000 of us were on hand at Green Point stadium for this glossy friendly on a warm and breezy late spring evening.
As we walked towards the ground, pubs were full of Bafana fans wearing the yellow national team shirt.
World Cup atmosphere at Green Point (Photo by Peter Alegi)
A few Americans chanted their support for the stars-and-stripes and confidently predicted a victory. The World Cup atmosphere was back (minus the FIFA branding).
Who said soccer ain't American? (Photo by Peter Alegi)
Inside the arena a welcoming vibe enveloped us. The sweet smell of football. The energy of a racially mixed and patriotic crowd. President Zuma meets the teams on the pitch. All for a good cause: the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Fans belt out South Africa’s multilingual national anthem in unison: a rare, precious moment of communitas, football’s unique contribution to a fractured society searching for a shared national identity.
Unfortunately, the football on the night was crap. Let’s call a spade a spade. A strangely lethargic Bafana Bafana side knocked the ball sideways and backwards, while the second-string Americans kept their shape and every once in a while hoofed the ball forward hoping for a break. Still, the two best chances fell to the hosts who, characteristically, squandered them. 0-0 at the half. Perhaps the one silver lining for SA was Leeds striker Davide Somma’s positive debut.
Play resumed at the same monotone pace, passes going astray, nobody really able to turn defenders or take a decent shot at goal, and a series of edgy tackles that did little to improve the flow of the game. A steady stream of substitutions made matters worse. The Mexican wave takes off, a universal symbol of bored fans.
Photo by Peter Alegi
The concocted drama of penalties beckoned until the Colombian-born Agudelo, left wide open in the box, capitalized on an inviting assist by Mikkel Diskerud, a former Norwegian under-19 international whose mother is American. Bafana pressed for the equalizer, but it was too little too late.
As the home crowd filed out quietly, a group of vociferous American college students wrapped in red-white-and-blue began their celebrations. I couldn’t help but think back to the last time South Africa played in Cape Town: a 3-1 loss to Zambia in September 2007. Is the Mother City cursed?
The year of Africa’s first World Cup is coming to an end. Tomorrow I am headed to Cape Town with my family for the South Africa – United States match at Green Point stadium. It’s a friendly branded as the Nelson Mandela Challenge — all proceeds go to the Mandela Children’s Fund.
A couple of days ago Rodney Reiners of the Cape Argus contacted me and Anders Kelto, an American reporter and former Under-17 US national team captain, for some insights on American soccer to share with South African readers in the build-up to the match. Here’s the interview in full:
Rodney Reiners: What should South Africans know about the establishment and rise of the MLS?
PA: Major League Soccer is a legacy of the 1994 World Cup. It kicked off in 1996 and marked the resurrection of professional soccer in the USA after the demise of the North American Soccer League in 1985. (There were some other attempts at pro soccer in between the NASL and MLS but nothing terribly noteworthy.) I was at the first final at Foxboro Stadium in ’96 with 30,000 mad people in a torrential rain of biblical proportions. It ended 3-2 on a golden goal for DC United: incredible stuff. This league, it seemed to me, was going places. The NASL’s collapse a decade earlier influenced the MLS’s decision to have centralized ownership of player contracts (that is, the league owns contracts not the clubs); to not over-expand the number of teams (we now have 16); make the league more “American” and not overly dependent on over-the-hill foreign stars.
AK: And to prevent the kind of imbalances that doomed the NASL. The New York Cosmos bought the world’s most famous players and drew huge crowds, but just about every other team struggled on the field, and financially.
PA: That’s a very good point Anders. I should add that the commitment of several large corporate sponsors and multi-year TV contracts helped keep MLS afloat in the difficult early years and also legitimized it. Today, MLS competes with ice hockey as the best professional league in the country after The Big Three (NFL, MLB, NBA). That’s a significant achievement and it’s sustainable in the long term.
The Morning After in Cape Town. Bafana gave folks something to scream about. Here’s Fortune to tell us what he thinks.
Fortune is surviving as a Cape Town Car Guard. A thankless gig. If you are renting a car to follow your team, don’t forget to give a good tip to your Car Guard. I ran into Fortune many hours later in the dead of night. He was waiting for a couple of drivers. Fortune had much to say about how different folks treat him. One can also learn much from your Car Guard. Fortune is a representative figure, one who deserves to more fortune.
There was a storm in Cape Town last night. I now know why they call the local Rugby team, the Stormers. The lashing rain and wind forced me to have a quiet night in with the telly. I had not switched on that “carbunkle” in the room since arriving in Cape Town, but I enjoyed its companionship last night. (*As Cape Town’s Greenpoint stadium arose, residents opposed to the project commonly referred to it as that “Carbunkle”.)
Bafana Bafana versus Colombia were top of the bill, but I also managed to consume a lot of commercials (more on those later), catch up with the highlights of the previous night’s friendlies, and also got a taste of network television from the former front line states of Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. I woke up this morning to Zimbabwe ‘showing the Willow’ to India. Two Indians were ran out in quick succession. FIFA could learn a lot from the Zimbabwean technology. The run-outs were quickly adjudicated by the help of a camera. The final decision of the umpire relayed to the crowd through a cable connected to an old set of traffic lights. Cheers of delight went up with every red light.
It’s another beautfiul morning in Cape Town, but last night was a portend of what the rainy season can bring to the game. I got a feeling Cape Town is going to host a classic or two in the knock out stages. There has been a lot of talk of teams preparing for altitude. But progress through Cape Town may require a team that can cope with a storm. (Only three teams have chosen to be based at sea level on the Western Cape: Denmark, France and Japan.)
I spent the morning with some serious senior folk in Cape Town. Baxter Auditorium at the University of Cape Town was packed to the rafters for a lecture on FIFA and the legacy of the World Cup, delivered by Lauren Platzky. I had ventured on campus expecting to find a small woolly collective of football connoisseurs. What I found instead were hundreds upon hundreds of Cape Town’s seniors getting their football ON!!!
Lauren Platzky was eloquent and most informative. Platzky, an Urban Planner by training, holds a quasi official role in the coordination of the tournament between FIFA and the various branches of government in Cape Town and on the Western Cape.
I grabbed a moment with Lauren Platzky after the lecture. I could have “interviewed” her. She covered a lot of material. and there would have been much to discuss. This World Cup and its legacy remain a work in progress, but there’s a time and place for everything. This was the time to be real and offer respect for the efforts of people like Platzky who have worked to make this tournament a reality. I preferred to say “Thank You.” Eikosi, Lauren!
Then I found the local seniors were interested in the fact that I was interested in them. There followed some engaging and lively discussion with folks in the foyer. Watch out for Rosemarie, and Avril and Morris coming to a YouTube near you soon!