Went­worth pro­duced wor­thy foot­ballers

The Mercury - - METRO - This is an ex­cerpt from the in­tro­duc­tion of De­sai’s book Went­worth: The Beau­ti­ful Game and the Mak­ing of Place.

This book is about pi­o­neer­ing at­tempts to build the beau­ti­ful game in Went­worth.

But as you turn the pages it be­comes more than that. There are sto­ries in this book about hous­ing bat­tles, gangs, sex­u­al­ity, and the loom­ing pres­ence of the petro­chem­i­cal com­pa­nies that at once pro­vide jobs and make the area the most pol­luted in Dur­ban. This is a tale that broad­ens into a whole cast of other play­ers, sup­port­ers and teams. In the process, they also speak of Went­worth, a place they sought to make as their world, as much as they were made by it, writes Ashwin De­sai

For my fa­ther, who once drove two hours to watch me play. We lost 6-1. I scored … an own goal…

IT WAS De­cem­ber 2015. I sat in my usual spot at my old lo­cal in Dur­ban.

It is the last of the old-style “non­white” bars that pro­lif­er­ated in the 1960s and 70s across the city. Dark and dank with wooden seats, worn-in, around a semi-cir­cu­lar oak bar.

The chat­ter all gets washed down with rounds of beer and whisky called from over-re­ced­ing hair­lines and col­lected be­tween the press of pot bel­lies. To step into this bar is to step into the past. But the de­bates and prej­u­dices of old are melded into the present.

Some­times, I won­der what I am do­ing in this den of po­lit­i­cal im­pro­pri­ety where ev­ery one of my views is loathed. It is for the braskap.

Friend­ship? No. That is an in­ad­e­quate trans­la­tion.

You see, when I walk into the bar, the first ques­tion they ask me is, “How’s your mum?”

They had never met her. But they know that this is what brought me back to Dur­ban.

When she died in De­cem­ber 2017, her ashes stood on the bar as we said a toast; “give the great woman a Bell’s” one of the pot bel­lies, once a cen­tre­half of note, wob­bled.

Many a time I have left the bar promis­ing never to re­turn. But deep down, I know I will be back. In this loud, smoke-filled pit, be­tween the ma­cho pos­tur­ing, there is ten­der­ness.

Dur­ing De­cem­ber 2016, the fes­tive cheer was in full swing. As the drinks flowed and joc­u­lar, manly teas­ing in­creased, I asked two of the reg­u­lars, who were im­mersed in soc­cer in the 1970s and early 80s, where the best soc­cer tal­ent in Dur­ban came from.

They both in­stinc­tively called out Went­worth and the best team to emerge from the area was Leeds United. They re­galed me with player names and team ex­ploits and chal­lenged me to record this his­tory.

I said I would. Bar-room prom­ises are taken more se­ri­ously in my world than those made in the board­room. It can make or break a rep­u­ta­tion, if not your head.

Of course, I was also at­tracted by my own love of the game.

As a teenager, I had watched pro­fes­sional games at Cur­ries Foun­tain in the 1970s and writ­ing the book now gave me the chance to break bread with boy­hood he­roes.

I played a lit­tle in my univer­sity days in Gra­ham­stown for a team called United Teenagers and then for the Kwaza­khele Soc­cer Board (Kwasbo).

A cen­tre-half, I earned the nick­name “Die Boom” (The Tree). I thought it was be­cause of my strength in tack­ling and stur­di­ness in the face of ad­ver­sity, but I soon learnt it was be­cause of my in­abil­ity to turn with grace and pace; “slower than the Ti­tanic”. Nick­names can be as cruel as re­veal­ing in soc­cer.

The jour­ney of this book be­gins in the sec­ond half of the 1960s, just as apartheid’s plan­ners took a knife to Dur­ban’s ge­og­ra­phy, slic­ing places into racial group ar­eas.

In this quest, I al­lowed my­self to drift into sto­ries be­yond the im­me­di­ate team sheet, to talk to peo­ple who hung out on street cor­ners, who peeped through slightly parted cur­tains of two-bed­room flats as I knocked on the neigh­bour’s door, and those who marched be­hind plac­ards.

As it un­folds, this book is also the story of place, how it was and what it is, guided by Mer­leau-Ponty’s idea that “to un­der­stand and judge a so­ci­ety, one has to pen­e­trate its ba­sic struc­ture to the hu­man bond upon which it is built”.

Bar-room prom­ises are taken more se­ri­ously in my world than those made in the board­room

MEM­BERS of Went­worth’s iconic Leeds United. From left: Pa­trick Mood­ley, Elvis Singh, Brian Fynn, Gre­gory Bap­tist, Clement Tucker, Phillip Peters. Front: Kirk Dut­low.

KWAZA­KHELE Soc­cer Board (Kwasbo): Ashwin De­sai, front, third from left. Circa 1984.

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