What is it with South African sports fans? I’ve got to admit I wasn’t a happy bunny on Saturday after the Boks’ loss to the All Blacks.The beer in the fridge was in for a hammering as I cued up the recording. I wasn’t keen to watch.
I hadn’t been able to watch the game live, so I’d taped it, planning to settle down at my leisure that afternoon. Something, though, had made me go onto social media. I was glad I had. The score was bleak, the commentary about it even worse. Still, blame the beer, something made me watch it.
To be honest, and I’m not a sports writer at all, while it was awful it wasn’t the worst I’d ever seen.
Being the perennial fan, I did find some positives, even if it was just that the team didn’t implode like Corné Krige at Twickenham in 2002 and start slapping everyone.
And that’s the problem. This wasn’t the worst Bok game I’ve seen. Sadly, I’ve watched too many, truth be told. The problem is that we want to believe we are invincible, that 1995 and 2007 (when we won the Rugby World Cup) weren’t just flashes in the pan.
To make matters worse, this year the omens had looked really promising until we went on to the field in New Zealand, and got the kind of treatment you get if you go to a particular steakhouse in the south of Joburg with unruly kids.
But in the end it’s just a game with an odd-shaped ball. I felt sorry for the players afterwards. It’s like being in sales when you miss your target, lose your bonus and still get s*** on by the boss - the double jeopardy of feeling psychologically and financially bludgeoned. But no sales person has ever had to be abused on social media too.
That’s fine, I suppose, if you are a celebrity - or a journalist. Most of my colleagues have been trolled by the scum that lurks in the outer reaches of social media, spewing bile and ill-informed, inbred theories of hate. No one I know though has ever had their families dragged into it - yet.
This week, stand in Bok skipper Eben Etzebeth used the press conference on the team’s return to quite rightly speak out against this.
Is this what we’ve been reduced to? Our lives are so k** that sport’s become our opiate and, when our teams lose, we take it out on the players’ partners on social media?
Are we truly that fragile, that unutterably pathetic as fans?
The answer, obviously, is yes. I blame social media - and its impact on middle-aged users. Kids don’t seem to have the same problem, having grown up with it, but for people our age there’s this bizarre disassociation that social media is somehow a parallel universe with none of the consequences of the real world.
If you wouldn’t say something face-to-face to someone because you knew it would be hurtful - and potentially earn you a deserved klap - why would it be any different doing it on Twitter or Facebook, even worse, tagging the target so they can see how much you loathe them?
The truth is it isn’t different. Not at all. It’s as awful being trolled on social media as someone calling you a [email protected]#$ to your face.
Rugby players are a helluva lot bigger in real life than they are on the TV screen. I’ve met a few. John Robbie was one. For years, I’d thought he was just a pint-sized terrier until I was in his studio at 702 and he filled the entire space, physically and personality-wise.
Etzebeth is massive. He’s like something out of Marvel’s Avengers.
I was flying out from ORT last year and the Boks had just flown back from getting pumped in New Zealand. Etzebeth was despondent, sitting on the steps as coach Allister Coetzee and another player tried to get their tickets to Cape Town sorted out. Even from afar, sitting on the steps, he was taller than his coach.
Did I tell him he’d played a k** game? Did I hell, I was too terrified to even go up to ask for his autograph.
The point is, the Boks are all just normal people, lucky enough to be paid to do something they love and are good at it, too. They’ll get better, we’re probably looking at the nucleus of the next team of World Cup winners, but it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.
One thing’s for sure, we won’t improve. We will still be a bunch of small-minded fans, projecting our own bulls*** onto the team, behaving appallingly when they lose. The fact that they can do what they do because we pay their salaries by buying tickets, Saru jerseys doesn’t give us any special right to be a***holes.
The real challenge is for us to become better, more educated as fans. This week’s another case in point.
Last year, during the Bok annus horribilis 2.0, everyone lashed the coach. This year, he’s got two new coaches to help him - and, surprise, surprise, they got the credit for the great turnaround before last Saturday.
Come final whistle and it’s all Coetzee’s fault again
Is anyone wondering why the team had to fend off abusive messages to their loved ones?
Welcome to the underworld of Springbok fandom. It should be as beyond the pale as c*** tactics and poor players.
* Kevin Ritchie is Independent Media’s Gauteng regional editor.