Sunday Times

Nothing kills the joy of soccer like a bunch of wailing vuvuzelas

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IN my teenage years we always looked forward to the big teams from Johannesbu­rg coming down to the sovereign kingdom by the coast to play the local teams. Whenever Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows and Kaizer Chiefs (yes, they are all in order of importance) came down to play the likes of AmaZulu, Bush Bucks and African Wanderers, we would pile onto the trains and buses and head for King’s Park stadium. We would sing all the way. The music would continue through the game and on the train all the way back to the township.

And that’s the point: there was singing. Lots and lots of it.

Music was as much a trademark of South African football as the tsamaya and the scissor kick.

Right up until the mid-2000s one would hear traditiona­l songs that were the trademark of teams and others that were composed on the spur of the moment.

Some were composed to celebrate specific achievemen­ts and landmark events. One such was the Siyoshis’ istadium song, which marked Orlando Pirates fans becoming the first to set fire to a stadium back in the mid-1990s in protest against bad refereeing.

There was lots of singing, too, when we hosted the African Cup of Nations in 1996. Who will forget the strains of Shosholoza and Shebeleza Congo as Bafana sprinted to glory?

In two weeks’ time, when Bafana Bafana take on Mexico at Soccer City, there will sadly be very little singing in the stands.

We South Africans, a mighty musical nation if ever there was one, will have replaced hearty renditions with the noise of something called the vuvuzela.

This instrument, which emits a sound akin to that of a goat on the way to slaughter, is now at the centre of a growing row in internatio­nal football.

There is a clamour from coaches, players and broadcaste­rs for Fifa to ban the instrument.

The argument is that it makes it difficult for coaches to bark instructio­ns to players during play. This, the vuvuzela’s critics argue, has a direct negative impact on the game.

The broadcaste­rs aver that the vuvuzela’s intrusive noise interferes with the sound quality of their transmissi­on.

The onslaught on the vuvuzela was started by Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso, who had to endure it during last year’s Confederat­ions Cup.

“That trumpet? It’s not nice . . . I think Fifa should ban it. It’s not really distractin­g, but it’s not a nice sound to hear,” he moaned.

His view was echoed by several other players during the course of the tournament.

Last week, football legend and Thailand coach Bryan Robson blamed the vuvuzela for his team’s disjointed performanc­e in their friendly against Bafana Bafana at Peter Mokaba stadium. He warned that it would make life difficult for coaches at the World Cup.

“The coaches at the World Cup are definitely going to have to inform their players beforehand that they will have to communicat­e effectivel­y with each other on the field,” the former England and manchester United midfield dynamo said.

“It’s very difficult to get any message to the players from the bench. Coaches are going to have to make that known to their players”

Word on the street is that several coaches have voiced their disquiet to their national associatio­ns, who have in turn conveyed the message to Fifa.

Predictabl­y, South Africans have been very defensive. A lot of noise has been made about the vuvuzela being part of South African tradition and it being the proverbial 12th man in the Bafana squad.

Even Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has been waxing lyrical about its role in the nation’s game plan.

“We have to reinforce that advantage . . . We want it louder and louder,” he was quoted as saying.

Defending the vuvuzela has now become a patriotic must.

It is as if our nationhood is being challenged by pesky foreigners who want to dictate our behaviour on home soil.

On this one I beg to be unpatrioti­c and for permission to side with the enemies of the vuvuzela.

What the vuvuzela has done to our football is to take away the spontaneit­y of song. Soccer fans do not compose new songs any more. The tribal chants that you hear at great soccer cathedrals such as White Hart Lane and the Santiago Bernabeu are rarely heard in our soccer grounds these days. Except for the Bloemfonte­in Celtic support base, the music in South African stadiums has been drowned by the dreadful instrument.

The vuvuzela issue is likely to be a major off-field controvers­y during next month’s tournament. There will be inflamed passions among its defenders and detractors.

South Africans will argue, just like our foursome big chief argues in favour of polygamy, that it has been part of our tradition.

What we as South Africans should be careful about, is to strike a nationalis­tic pose and accuse the instrument’s opponents of a superiorit­y complex.

Let us let the vuvuzela go and get that singing spirit back. That is what memories are made of.

Not the sound of a goat in distress.

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