Ex­cuse the cliché, but it’s go­ing to be a bap­tism of fire for Baxter

CityPress - - Sport - S’Bu­siso Mse­leku

One of the best jour­nal­ists this coun­try has pro­duced once told me that get­ting sports writ­ers to avoid us­ing clichés is one of the tough­est things to do.

Since then I have ob­served, some­times with glee, that sports writ­ers and clichés are some­times as in­sep­a­ra­ble as Si­amese twins.

But, with re­spect to this veteran, I for­gave my fel­low re­porters this week as even I could not come up with a bet­ter ex­pres­sion than “a bap­tism of fire” in ref­er­ence to Stu­art Baxter’s match against Nige­ria on Satur­day.

So, with apolo­gies to this warhorse, I get onto the cliché band­wagon.

Foot­ball ri­val­ries all across the world are well doc­u­mented.

Among the fiercest is the El Cla­sico – Real Madrid vs Barcelona in Spain, Manch­ester United vs Arse­nal or Liver­pool in Eng­land, Boca Ju­niors vs River Plate in Ar­gentina, Ju­ven­tus vs ei­ther AC or In­ter Mi­lan in Italy and Al Ahly vs Za­malek in Egypt.

We also have our own Soweto Derby, which pits for­mer arch­en­e­mies Or­lando Pi­rates and Kaizer Chiefs against each other.

At in­ter­na­tional level, they don’t get any more bit­ter than Brazil vs Ar­gentina in South Amer­ica and Ger­many vs Nether­lands in Europe.

There have even been spit­ting in­ci­dents on the field in those ri­val­ries, and peo­ple have ac­tu­ally died over them.

In Africa, I don’t think foot­ball ri­val­ries get any hot­ter than South Africa vs Nige­ria.

The two coun­tries are sworn en­e­mies in many as­pects in their quest to be re­garded as the best na­tion on this con­ti­nent.

In the 1990s, Nige­ria even passed on the op­por­tu­nity to come to South Africa to de­fend the Africa Cup of Na­tions (Af­con) tro­phy they had lifted two years ear­lier in Tu­nisia.

The de­ci­sion was a re­sult of a spat be­tween for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela and Sani Abacha, the dic­ta­tor then run­ning the west African coun­try.

Bri­tish jour­nal­ist Si­mon Ku­per, who trav­elled across the globe recording how im­por­tant foot­ball was to dif­fer­ent na­tions’ psy­ches, made some se­ri­ous and in­ter­est­ing ob­ser­va­tions.

Among them was how politi­cians used foot­ball to climb to the helm of their coun­try’s gov­ern­ments and some­times to stay there.

Abacha had gone ahead and or­dered the ex­e­cu­tion of writer and ac­tivist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was fight­ing for the rights of the peo­ple liv­ing in the oil-rich Ogoni re­gion.

Abacha de­fied Madiba and spat in the whole world’s face by car­ry­ing out the ex­e­cu­tion.

He then made a uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to ban the Nige­rian na­tional team from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 1996 Af­con.

To date, Nige­ri­ans are wont to boast to any South African that we won that match only be­cause they were not around.

To add in­sult to in­jury, the re­sults of the games be­tween the two na­tions sup­port that state­ment.

So far, the two teams have had 12 meet­ings, with Nige­ria com­ing out tops on seven oc­ca­sions, four end­ing in draws and only one vic­tory for Bafana.

Nige­ria have pumped in 22 goals to our boys’ mea­gre six. Quite a lop­sided set of re­sults by any stan­dards.

The taunt­ing that goes on in foot­ball has risen to such a level that many Nige­ri­ans will tell any­one who lis­tens that Bafana Bafana have be­come like their wives. Quite a hurt­ful and bit­ter taunt!

It is with this back­ground that I agree with the view that Baxter’s first match on his sec­ond com­ing is in­deed a bap­tism of fire.

Mr Stu­art Wil­liam Baxter, sir, our fate is in your hands. Need we re­mind you of what that great Scots­man who took Liver­pool to dizzy heights, your name­sake Bill Shankly, said?

“Some peo­ple think foot­ball is a mat­ter of life and death. I as­sure you, it’s much more se­ri­ous than that.”

sm­se­leku@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Sbu_Mse­leku

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