In­ter­na­tional whinge

The art of sup­port­ing abso lutely no-one …

Kick Off - - INSIDE - WORDS BY STEPHEN KIHN | Twit­ter: @k @kick­offff­magazine | IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY CAR­LOS AMATO

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.

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