The art of supporting abso lutely no-one …
Which Premier League club do you support?” This is a question I’ve come to dodge since childhood and it’s one I’m destined to battle with until I become worm food. I was naturally asked this question in my interview to join KICK OFF. In hindsight, had I lied and espoused the virtues of my “beloved” Gunners – coupled with some strong words on Arsene Wenger and a dig at Spurs - I’d probably be running Soccer At Its Best by now. The truth is I’ve never supported an English team, and this elicits confusion and distrust – at worst exudes a serial killer vibe.
My sneaky stepbrother,
a visionary that predated the Guptas in South Africa, thought I could be incentivised. He tried recruiting me to the red side of Manchester in the 1990s with a gift, a Red Devils jersey bought on a trip to the UK. It was no good. As much as I enjoyed rocking the Eric Cantona No 7 jersey as a laaitie, I just felt no allegiance or affinity towards a team that’s thousands of kilometres away. Nothing’s changed and I continue to weather the judgemental looks and defend my right to be neutral. I have a slight issue with the casual South African fan claiming a soft spot for the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool, given the global exposure of the Barclays Premier League. But it’s the rabid die-hards, tattoo-sporting, splurging-on-replica-merchandise, feverishly-tracking-transferactivity and who plan their entire lives around fixtures that get to me. A case of such excess violently hit home in 2014 when the Reds hosted the Blues in a title-defining fixture at Anfield. Remember the Steven Gerrard slip (Slippy G) that allowed Demba Ba in? It’s something I clearly recall, not because it effectively cost the Merseysiders a first league title for 24 years, as Man City edged them at the post. Rather it’s because that goal resulted in street battles in a typically sedate suburb in Cape Town. To paint a picture: I was celebrating birthday drinks in a pub adjacent to another watering hole showing the same Liverpool vs Chelsea game. One moment it was a lovely Sunday afternoon, the next brawls were blocking traffic to the sound of shattering glass. Gerrard’s cruel mistake was apparently what sparked the tribute to Green Street Hooligans, aided by heavy boozing, no doubt. Of course, I can appreciate the qualities of English football, its history, its stars and characters. Forget the Zlatan Ibrahimovic show, I’ll challenge any one that downplays the contribution of Colin Hendry to Blackburn Rovers’ third top-flight triumph in 1994/1995. People talk of lion-hearted defenders, this man had a mane! Still, I just can’t accept I’m the odd one out for refusing to pick a side, despite society imploring that I do. I received a rare dose of affirmation a few years back from a colleague, a Scouser working in Cape Town who had since returned to Liverpool. On discovering my neutrality he leaned in and confessed he was annoyed by how seriously South Africans supported English clubs. That colleague became a friend that day, and I only had to toss a few million countrymen under the bus. To be fair, supporting a team, whether local or foreign, at whatever intensity, is an individual choice. You like what you like, there doesn’t always have to be a logical reason such as family heritage or you grew up on a diet of M-Net Open Time, where they only showed Liverpool and United matches. But if you’ve gone the colonial route, here’s a tip, try not to be so quick in volunteering how long you’ve supported Liverpool or United or Arsenal or Chelsea or Spurs or City, it suggests you have something to hide.