Pain running in the People’s Race, goalkeepers’ pain, and pain for Pirates
‘WHY DO we do this to ourselves?” one runner asked about the sanity, or lack thereof, of punishing your body for 42.2km all in the name of “fun”, with just 3km to go at the Soweto Marathon last week.
By that time I was in a world of pain. My shoulder blades felt like a thousand needles were pricking them. My feet felt like I was walking barefoot on hot coals while my thighs were on fire and my legs had the unfortunate task of carrying me with all that pain. I sneaked into the finish line after five hours and 26 min- utes to end the torment of a gruelling marathon on a hot day after properly exploring Soweto.
But the spirit of the Sowetans in the “People’s Race” did make it a special outing. They came out in their numbers to cheer us, offering water, bananas, potatoes, salt, even beer and other stuff along with support. The bronze medal that I got for my effort was worth gold to me because crossing that finish line is richly rewarding, making all that pain worth it.
Running a marathon was the furthest thing from my mind when I started running two years ago. The aim was just to lose weight and keep fit but then I got addicted and it became about improving, running faster and longer. Who knows, maybe next year I might do the Comrades? – which is even more insane. But then again, I have never had sanity in bucket loads and surviving in Joburg strips you of it inch-by-inch every day.
The only thing crazier than running a marathon is being a goalkeeper. It’s a gruelling and thankless job that punishes your body and mind. Your heroics are quickly forgotten, your mistakes live for eternity.
“He wears the number one on his back,” Eduardo Galeano writes about the goalkeeper in Football in Sun and Shadow. “The first to be paid? No, the first to pay. It’s always the keeper’s fault. And if it isn’t, he still gets blamed. When any player commits a foul, he’s the one who gets punished. They leave him there in the immensity of the empty net, abandoned to face his executioner alone. And when the team has a bad afternoon, he’s the one who pays the bill, expiating the sins of others under a rain of flying balls. The rest of the players can blow it once in a while, or often, but redeem themselves with a spectacular dribble, a masterful pass, a well-placed volley. Not him. The crowd never forgives the keeper.”
Wayne Sandilands knows this better than anyone at the moment. After a bright start to his career at Orlando Pirates, keeping four clean sheets in his first five matches – the Buccaneers’ goalkeeper went from hero to villain after just one match. The Ghost have suddenly forgotten how much he saved them at the beginning by being an assuring figure as Pirates’ defence transformed from a porous bunch to a more solid unit. But one mistake against his former team, Mamelodi Sundowns, washed away all of that.
But Sandilands’ struggle and the Buccaneers’ short memory is just a symptom of the club’s problems. Pirates have improved from the miserable team they were last season but they are still far from being an all-conquering team that their fans and history expect them to be. It was naïvety that made anyone think that they would turn things around in such a short time.
Coach Milutin Sredojevic still has a mammoth task ahead of him. Bucs could still finish this season without a trophy, something they haven’t had since 2014. They might be on the right path but need to make some improvements.
The club needs a solid anchor in defence. Their solutions to that role have only been temporary. Issa Sarr has done a good job in midfield and with Thamsanqa Sangweni waiting in the wings they should be fine. The biggest problem for the club is finding goals consistently. Pirates have been woeful in front of goals.
Poor finishing cost them the match against the Brazilians and led to their elimination in the quarter-finals of the Telkom Knockout at the hands of Polokwane City. Everyone associated with Pirates must brace themselves as things will not turn around instantly. It will be a gruelling process with ups and downs, requiring patience and endurance.