Wentworth produced worthy footballers
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