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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friday night out

Cape Town Stadium, January 14, Ajax-Chiefs: Pictures: Steve Pike
“Who are you voting for?” my nine-year old daughter Ella asked enthusiastically on Friday night. We had just sat down with 40 000 people to watch Ajax Cape Town play Kaizer Chiefs at Cape Town Stadium.
Only one member in our group of 14 had made her allegiances clear. Tina wore a yellow and black bandana and shirt. The rest of us – aged six to 48 – were dressed nondescriptly or in Bafana gear.
Except for Barry, who wore a loud Bloemfontein Celtic shirt “because that’s the only PSL shirt I have”.
There was a balance of Chiefs and Ajax supporters among us, though also a few fence-sitters who switched sides during the game as the play ebbed and flowed.
Like a loyal party supporter, I stuck with tradition. I told Ella I was “voting” Chiefs, “because this is the team that I grew up with” (though in truth I had only watched two live PSL games, first in Joburg in the early 1990s between Chiefs and Pirates, and again a few months ago at the Cape Town Stadium).
For Ella, loyalty meant backing her home city team. She declared her support for the red and white side.
Premier Soccer League fans-in-training, we settled into the game.
We cheered. We clapped. We stamped our feet. We stood up and swayed to the yellow and red Mexican wave. We shared chairs with the family next to us due to seat shortages. Six-year-old Jemima blew competently on her vuvuzela, to a nod of approval from vuvu veterans behind her. She offered her plastic horn to me. I passed it on to my husband Steve, who plays social soccer every Wednesday as a diversion from his seven-day surfing obsession.
He pursed his lips to the horn, emitting a few feeble sounds.
He handed it to the American in front of him, who trumpeted away loudly, repetitively and rhythmically.
The game took shape. Our cynical “Oh-no-it’s-2011” spirits lifted. Exuberant fans cheered at the high level of skill on the field.
Halfway through the game, Steve nudged me and said: “Gee, we live in an amazing country.”
That’s exactly what I had been thinking, I said, cliché and all.
I glanced around the heaving stadium. A passionate Chiefs supporter in the row in front stood up and began copying the fancy footwork of one of his heroes on the field. He slumped back into his seat after the player – (I had no idea who it was) – missed the goal.
 few seats from him, a tourist from Chicago – a soccer fanatic – kept his eyes glued to the game throughout. Every now and then, he muttered words of praise or criticism to a stranger next to him who had become his new-found mate.
Six months after the final whistle blew on the World Cup, we had been unsure what to expect when we set out for the double-header on Friday night, which opened with the game between Vasco Da Gama and Supersport United. We wondered whether these PSL games would be a let-down after that feast of world-class football half a year ago.
Friday night’s soccer was parochial when compared to the grandness of that historic moment, but the evening was a real treat.
We have graduated – moved on – from the World Cup. Yes, it was a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime event, but what we saw on Friday night was the emergence of a more authentic cultural experience.
Stripped of bells and whistles and glamorous A-list celebrities, here was a down-to-earth show, a local night of regular soccer. This is what made the evening so special.
Capetonians – and a smattering of tourists – had made Friday night a Soccer Night at the Cape Town Stadium. More than 40 000 supporters from all around the city had paid between R40 and R80 a ticket. Leaving their comfort zones in front of the television, they had commuted to Green Point – by bus, by taxi and by car – to be spectators.
The game ended with victory for the home team. The crowds streamed out the stadium, most heading for public transport home and some strolling to the nearest bar. There was a feeling of camaraderie and not a hint of aggression – not even from the disappointed fans in yellow and black.
The success of the World Cup demonstrated that South Africa was capable of anything, that the country was full of potential and possibility. This seed of hope – against the odds – was planted six months ago.
Friday night at the Cape Town Stadium was just a local soccer game, but a timeous reminder that strength lies in our diversity, and that the glass is not half-empty.
And Friday night’s success was a sign that soccer – including the stadium monolith – can be a unifying cultural force in a historically divided city. I’ll vote for that.
*This article appeared in the Cape Times on January 17, 2011.
Ruling Chief: struggling to dominate Friday night

Ajax supporters at the Cape Town Stadium

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