I have really fallen out of love with football. Well, Newcastle United still holds a place in my heart but as a general football fan I have completely lost interest in the collection of international stars that have all come together to represent Arsenal, Chelsea or whoever. Part of the main problem is that the game is played by footballers who are the most pampered poncy collection of self obsessed money orientated pillocks that exist without any loyalty to their club (although I know there are exceptions to this generalisation… but you get my point). The significance is no longer there and to be honest I don’t miss it one bit in my life currently as modern football has changed so much from the sport that I grew up with. Can you imagine Billy Bremner with a diamond studded ear-ring? However, this all changes for one month in a World Cup year and this year’s World Cup in South Africa is probably the most important tournament that has been thus far in the history of the sport.
I can’t pretend for one moment to understand the complex mix of issues that face South Africa specifically or Africa generally. What I do know is that if you go back 20 years in time it is unimaginable that such a tournament would have taken place in SA as the country was emerging from the horrors of Apartheid and sporting isolation. The international sporting ban was beautifully explained once by Ron Pickering, the late much respected BBC sports commentator. It was not the South African human rights record that was an issue as we played sports with countries that had a much worse record on indeed their economic shortcomings at the time but it was based on the fact that the ethos of sport is that it is to be available for all on a level playing field. During the 50s and 60s certain individuals were unable to tour South Africa as part of a national side purely based on the colour of their skin. As a cricket fan the sporting boycott saddened me as the world of cricket was robbed of what was likely to have been one of the finest test sides ever as some truly great players came together at the same time. One can only dream of how good a team featuring Barry Richards, the Pollock brothers, Mike Proctor, Eddie Barlow et al would have gone on to be and the clashes between them and the great West Indies sides of the day would have been amazing. Except for the fact that the Windies team could never have visited a racially segregated country where they would not have been allowed onto the same beaches as white people, the same hotels and so on had they not been international cricketers. If the sporting exclusion has played a part in the removal of the apartheid system then the sacrifice has been worth it. Of course there are still immense problems that are outstanding for the people of South Africa to overcome and it is likely to take more than one generation to get the issue of poverty resolved. But the country is so much better placed than all other nations in the continent to overcome this problem and it is testimony to those that founded the new “Rainbow Nation” that the World Cup Finals has been awarded to the South Africans as the tournament visits the continent for the first time. South Africa has spent in the region of £3.55 bn on stadiums and upgrading the infrastructure, some of this work was needed anyway, and the net benefit is estimated to bring 370,000 foreign visitors or an increase of 0.5% onto the country’s GDP. The good will is priceless, however.
I began my blog dispising football – however, football is the only global sport that can have this impact. It is not one of those sports only played by Americans for a “world series” or my beloved cricket or rugby which are still only played by Commenwealth Nations predominantly. Football touches people all around the planet like no other sport can and raise passions of all fans regardless of whether their national team has qualified for the finals or not. The South Africans have taken on this global passion and added their own twist – I have now learnt a new word, vuvuzela. There is a lovely sense of National pride wherever you look – so many people regardless of their ethnic background have said how proud they are to be a South African and the atmosphere in the country is electric. Long may it continue as South Africa is a place I am truly growing to love more and more on a daily basis and indeed have been doing so ever since Nelson Mandela walked out of jail in such a dignified manner.
As for the football itself, I really hope that England have a good tournament. I feel they are just short of the level required to actually go on and win, but if they reach their potential, who knows? There is a buzz in this country too but as someone with tartan blood in my veins I think putting a St George Flag on my car is just one step too far for me!! Other wishes are to see a little magic from Brazil, some attacking flair from all and the game played fairly. On the last point, I really hope The French have a stinker based on their qualification. Regardless of who lifts the trophy in one month’s time, South Africa is the true winner of the 2010 World Cup.