Friday, June 11, 2010

South Africa

South Africa.
“Tourists don't know where they've been, travellers don't know where they're going.”
(Paul Theroux)

Why is it when you casually slip into conversation that you are heading to South Africa for the World Cup, the first two questions posed are invariably ‘what tickets have you got?’ and ‘where are you staying?’ If you can’t provide sensible answers to both questions they assume you are lying, or an idiot. The response of ‘we’ve just booked a return flight to Jo’burg, and we’ll see what happens’, does not fill people with confidence. Apparently South Africa is dangerous, we shouldn’t be camping illegally, we should plan a route, and we should avoid the risk and the poverty. Clearly, not all advice should be heeded. When we fly to South Africa tomorrow to commence a fortnight of African adventure, we will do so armed with more wit than wisdom and more courage than organisation. Time will tell whether this philosophy is closer to ingenious or insanity.

Rand.

Booking match tickets was not a priority. Securing accommodation was not even a consideration. But of course I spent hours deliberating over which trainers to take, and of comparable importance, what should go on the flag. I had the lazy initial intention of taking the ‘SCOUSE SPANIARDS’ banner that followed Euro 2008 victors Spain around Austria and Switzerland. But given that the cracks that later appeared in Anfield’s Spanish regime culminated in the ultimate demolition of that empire, I thought it wise to avoid directing our fluid attachments to that or any other external national identity. So I sent a text to a few of the lads: ‘Going to South Africa – devoid of inspiration for flag ideas – suggestions?’ Once I had explained what ‘devoid’ meant, the ideas came thick and fast, varying in quality.

‘TOLD ME BIRD I’VE GONE TO GET THE ECHO’, ‘I’VE GOT MORE MONEY THAN HICKS AND GILLET’, and ‘HOME AND AWAY WITH NORTH KOREA’ were some of the more promising offerings. At the other end of the spectrum, I was confident that the author of ‘ANYONE KNOW WHAT HOTEL JOHN TERRY’S MA IS STAYING IN?’ did not expect that to go to print, regardless of Mrs Terry’s alleged appreciation for Scouse body parts. The abbreviation of ‘ANYONE BUT ENGLAND’ and the full text version were both put on the short list, but in reflection I didn’t want to confuse / incur the wrath of any of those bright, tolerant and progressive Ingerlund fans. I think three words is two too many for them anyway. Apparently it should just be a St George’s Cross with something poetic like ‘MILLWALL’ splattered on the middle. They are unlikely to go for ‘CARRA DOESN’T CARE’ either. Needless to say, when in South Africa we’ll be avoiding the English and their team, supporters, media and deluded dreams of earning a second star on their shirt.

Although I’m keen not to repeat the politically correct drivel spouted by some journalists and federation representatives about the significance of the tournament being in Africa, it should be noted that staging the globe’s biggest football event on African soil will be a momentous occasion. Infrastructure, tourism and football development are among the plethora of potential beneficiaries.

Impacts elsewhere will also hopefully include improvements in tolerance and ethno-cultural understanding, and the undermining of racist attitudes. Watching the draw unfold in a pub in December, I heard the man next to me express a desire to see Nigeria play Germany, just to see ‘NIG-GER’ appear at the top left corner of his TV. There were no words to respond.

Whatever happens though, this World Cup is sure to live long in the memory – and with the Opening Ceremony unfolding before my eyes as I type, the expectation is mounting. So stay tuned to follow an alternative exploration into World Cup territory, right here. I can’t promise balanced articles rich with interviews, insight and information. But then, who wants to read that?

© Joel Rookwood

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