Benni can reignite lo­cal in­ter­est in beau­ti­ful game

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

FOR many young boys of my gen­er­a­tion, who lived on the Cape Flats, soc­cer was an im­por­tant part of our lives. Many of us played soc­cer, ei­ther in the Satur­day or Sun­day leagues – some in both, even though tech­ni­cally this was not al­lowed – and we had formal prac­tices a few times a week. On the other days, we could be found play­ing soc­cer on one of the open pieces of land near the blocks of flats where we lived.

It was a way of keep­ing our­selves oc­cu­pied and helped to keep many of my peers away from the gangs which in­fested such a huge part of our com­mu­nity.

Sup­port for lo­cal soc­cer has al­ways been big and, over week­ends, dozens of peo­ple, some­times even hun­dreds, would stand on the side lines to watch us play. They would not only be par­ents who were forced to watch us, as hap­pens with lots of sport­ing ac­tiv­ity in the wealth­ier sub­urbs, but would in­clude many peo­ple for whom this would be a rare en­ter­tain­ment ac­tiv­ity.

Soc­cer sup­port­ers were mostly fairly knowl­edge­able and would en­cour­age their teams to do what­ever was needed to do to win. They would nor­mally take um­brage at ref­er­ee­ing that they con­sid­ered to be be­low par, which was most of the time.

The sup­port for lo­cal soc­cer has never re­ally trans­ferred to the PSL teams and sta­di­ums re­main largely empty when our pro­fes­sional teams play, un­less it is against teams such as Kaizer Chiefs or Or­lando Pi­rates when the sta­dium is filled with sup­port­ers of the teams from Gaut­eng.

Part of the rea­son for the lack of sup­port could be blamed on eco­nom­ics – you can watch lo­cal am­a­teur soc­cer for free but hav­ing to pay to watch pro­fes­sional soc­cer, even if it is only R20 or R30, can be hard on the pocket and has to com­pete with bread, milk and air­time, which, for some peo­ple, has be­come as great a ne­ces­sity as sta­ple foods.

There are some peo­ple who ar­gue that Kaizer Chiefs sup­port­ers seem to find the money to sup­port their team, wher­ever they play in the coun­try, but this is not some­thing that re­quires a cash in­jec­tion week af­ter week.

The big teams visit ev­ery cou­ple of months, at most. Sup­port for lo­cal soc­cer is go­ing to de­pend on peo­ple be­ing pre­pared to part with their cash on a near weekly ba­sis.

I was very ex­cited when I heard about the launch (or should that be re­launch) of Cape Town City. I grew up sup­port­ing the old Cape Town City and my fa­ther used to take me to watch them play at Hart­ley­vale when it was still a soc­cer sta­dium. When I be­came po­lit­i­cally aware, I started sup­port­ing San­tos, which com­peted in the non-racial league.

My sup­port for the new Cape Town City has very lit­tle to do with what they’ve done on the field, although that has been im­pres­sive.

My en­thu­si­asm was linked to some of the things the team said it would do, and what it did at the out­set.

One of these things was to iden­tify soc­cer stal­warts, not only from the PSLbut also those who sup­ported anti-apartheid sport, and of­fer them free en­try to their games. They spoke about tak­ing soc­cer to the peo­ple.

The ap­point­ment of Benni McCarthy as their head coach, de­spite his not hav­ing coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, is an­other good move.

Let me de­clare my con­flict up­front: I am a proud prod­uct of Hanover Park, a place which is al­ways in the news for the wrong rea­sons but which has given to our com­mu­nity lead­ers in many ar­eas of so­ci­ety, not only in sport and en­ter­tain­ment.

McCarthy is, of course, a prod­uct of those am­a­teur leagues that are so pop­u­lar on the Cape Flats but he was no­ticed by pro­fes­sional scouts at a young age, go­ing on to be­come Bafana Bafana’s most pro­lific goal scorer.

I am sure he will make us proud and hope­fully con­vince more peo­ple that they should part with their hard-earned cash to sup­port lo­cal pro­fes­sional soc­cer.

Years ago, I learnt that peo­ple who suc­ceed in life also want vin­di­ca­tion from the peo­ple with whom they grew up or who live in their home towns. I have worked with at least two in­ter­na­tion­ally­ac­claimed South African mu­si­cians who shared with me the same story about how they wished they could have the same ac­claim lo­cally as they en­joyed abroad.

McCarthy has an op­por­tu­nity to wrig­gle him­self back into the hearts of peo­ple from all over Cape Town who may have be­gun to for­get his achieve­ments on the soc­cer field. He can also be the cat­a­lyst for reignit­ing in­ter­est in lo­cal pro­fes­sional soc­cer.

As we cel­e­brate Youth Month, apart from sort­ing out per­ti­nent is­sues such as un­em­ploy­ment and a lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple, we need to pay more at­ten­tion to the things that in­ter­est our youth. Sport, in par­tic­u­lar soc­cer, and mu­sic are two of those things. It is a pity that the gov­ern­ment and many cor­po­rates do not seem to re­alise the im­por­tance of the stuff that feeds our soul, such as sport and mu­sic.

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