Clinton van der Berg.
For lovers of sport, the past week could not have summoned a greater swing of emotions.

From the sweet triumph of Liverpool in the Champions League final to the Proteas’ shattering opening at the World Cup, fans have experienced both joy and anguish.

Even the fence-sitters among us, or the anti-Liverpool brigade, can’t have been unmoved by events in Madrid where passion was writ large. Liverpool was awash in red on Sunday as the city came out to salute its heroes, whose remarkable European journey gave sport one of its great narratives.

And so to the Proteas.

“You may glory in a team triumphant,” Roger Kahn, author of The Boys of Summer, famously wrote, “but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”

Kahn is a baseball man, so probably doesn’t know of our tangled, tortured relationship with the Proteas.

So many of us began the World Cup with that most misplaced of emotions - hope - and believed that the Proteas would finally banish years of failure, disappointment and paralysis. We loved them despite these failings, despite the many false dawns. And here we sit again, bathed in anguish and bathos. It’s Groundhog Day, all over again. Personal relationships with sport teams are complex, complicated affairs. The popularity of the Premier League is one such example. Few South Africans have any historical, traditional or familial links to the English teams they support, but the Premiership is a phenomenon. Fans exist in every corner of SA , and indeed the world, giving life to the most vibrant league on earth. Even when the soccer isn’t necessarily always top-class, the storylines and fierce tribal rivalries nurture it and give it a unique, sustained prominence in public life.

The excitement manifests in many ways, from feverish supporters’ clubs to the team gear sold at local sport shops and to the banter in pubs and next to office water coolers. It is, in every way, a wonder of marketing, hype and promotion.

Our relationship with the Proteas is generally fraught. Most of us are duty-bound to support our national teams, and so we do, usually through thick and thin. The Proteas reward us often with thrilling moments and famous wins, but the one thing we really crave - a significant ICC trophy - is the one thing they seem determined not to give us.

Worse is how they titillate and tease us. They bang out good scores, they run slick marketing campaigns and they paint a picture of being ready to take on the world. And every four years we are seduced by the possibilities and the promise of it all. We jump on the hype train and we believe. Maybe this time, we fervently hope.The trouble with such love affairs is that the love cannot be unrequited. As we’ve seen with Bafana Bafana, who have an ambivalent relationship with many supporters, disappointment can transform into apathy, indifference even.

The Proteas aren’t quite sunk, but you suspect they won’t make it to the business end in England. Their ship has sprung too many holes and they’re listing badly.

As ever, the memes and cruel jokes are already doing the rounds; gallows humour helping to comfort us.

The Proteas will come again, as will we, more bruised and bewildered than ever.

@ClintonV


Sunday Tribune

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