On Thursday night, Juan Mata was named as the Chelsea Player of the Year for the second year in a row having helped his side win the Europa League the night before. On Friday morning he was pretending to polish the boot of Mvelo Mvuleni after he had scored a goal during a training session at Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham in Surrey.
Mvuleni, a 10-year old from Forest Hill Primary, was one of the 14 children from around the world chosen to take part in the Samsung Dream the Blues, the younger of the two South Africans. Goitsemang Lengene, his countryman, celebrated his goal by jumping on the back of Mata and pumping his arms in the air. The camp, which included three days of training and ended with a trip to watch Chelsea take on Everton yesterday, was to teach them the “Chelsea way” of playing, training and, it seems, celebrating goals. Mata speaks English well, but in a team of many languages – and a group of children from China, Thailand, Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria, Mexico and South Africa – there is only one way to communicate, he said.
The sun came out over London yesterday, the day after the night of celebration and vindication. It shone down on the Chelsea training grounds in Cobham, an hour south of Stamford Bridge.
At Cobham, a dozen boys ran around in the sun, dressed in the colours of their hosts, urged on by coaches from the club. They were the kids of the Dream the Blues, a programme put on by Chelsea sponsors Samsung to give children from around the world a chance to train at the club of the European Champions League and Europa League winners. One drill saw them imitating the players who had starred for Chelsea against Benfica in Amsterdam. A call of "Cech" from the coach was the signal to dive on the ground to the right, hands outstretched, a little like he spent a good amount of his time in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
On the wall above where Zola Majavu, the administrator of Athletics South Africa, sat and related the horror story of the debt, lack of governance and mess that the governing body is in last week, is a certificate from the Department of Trade and Industry. It says that ASA “has been nominated as one of the TOP 300 Companies as a result of its contribution to the growth of the economy and job creation”. That’s one of the top 300 companies in South Africa. The year is 2004.
In 2004, ASA paid their employees’ taxes to the South African Revenue Services. It was one of the few years that they did during the last decade. They skipped many of the other years, either through neglect, corporate thuggishness or simple ignorance of the law. Last week ASA owed R1.6-million in penalties and fines. ASA had also not paid over the pension funds they collected from their employees. This left the employees in limbo. Should they retire or pass away, there would be no money for them to retire on. Majavu said last week that an ASA employee had died last year and could not collect on the pension money because it had been in arrears. They had paid almost R500-million to bring the fund up to date recently, but the relatives of the deceased were still struggling to access their money. They kept coming back to ask where it was. Majavu said the ASA employees had taken to hiding when the relatives came around.
Sir Alex Ferguson had a strange relationship with the media. He was quick to take offence, quick to ban journalists from briefings, but, yet, could be generous. It is |unlikely that Sir Alex Ferguson will remember the late, great Rodney Hartman, but he had cause to be angry with him back in 2006 when Manchester United toured South Africa.
Sir Alex spoke at a dinner at the Turffontein Race Course. It is safe to say a few drinks had been taken by many of those in the room, and when Ferguson got up to speak, he didn’t hold back. He told them Chelsea were “hell-bent on ruining football”. I heard it. Rodney heard it, and I saw him write a note. A little later he said David Beckham was a “manufactured footballer”. Harters took another note. There had been no request for the session to be off the record, and both Rodney and I had been invited with the full knowledge that we would write about the evening and give publicity to the dinner.
We were the only journalists there. Rodney used the quotes in his daily column in The Star. The touring British journalists, who had been ambling along in a sea of nothing stories about the tour, were overjoyed. They ran the story, and they ran it big. “Fergie in storm for attack on Chelsea” shouted the Daily Mail. “Ferguson denies Chelsea attack,” reported the Telegraph. I wish I could remember how the tabloids ran it. Ferguson went on a damage limitation exercise ahead of the final match of the Vodacom Challenge against Chiefs in Pretoria at Loftus.
Imagine you’re a young professional footballer. You started playing football as soon as you could walk. You’ve always been a good kid. You’ve been brought up to respect your elders. You’ve known that there is a set path to your life, one expected of your by your family and its traditions. You finish school, get a job, meet a girl, get married and have children, and, then, die. But this doesn’t gel with you. You’ve always felt a little different to the other boys. You don’t get their brass-polishing fervour when they joke about girls and what they’d like to do to them. It takes you until your late teens to realise that you are gay. You’ve always known it. No one else can know it.
You keep playing football. You’re good at it. You get called up for Bafana Bafana. Before your debut match, the president of the country, Jacob Zuma, is introduced to the team. He walks down the line, shaking hands, smiling. He reaches you, clasps both your hands in his and wishes you luck. You smile, but all you can think is of what he said at that Heritage Day rally back in 2006: “When I was growing up an ungqingili (a gay) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out.” You remember him saying that same-sex marriages were “a disgrace to the nation and to God”. You’re gay. No one else can know it. You’re deathly scared of what will happen.