Regular readers of this column will know that I have two passions: Reading and music.
Okay, okay, I can already hear a few of my friends smirking and saying: What about that frosty, frothy amber liquid that you love so much?
Fine, that too.
Forgive the digression, the point is that often the inspiration for an article is to be found in my two passions, which is why my writing is sometimes spiced with song lyrics, or peppered with literary references, that shine a symbolic light on the topic discussed.
This column has been on a break during the off-season – but, to get it under way again, it proved to be no different as a tune from the melodious voice of Carole King prompted my latest ramble.
Cape Town’s three favourite football sons – Benni McCarthy, Shaun Bartlett and Quinton Fortune – are all back in the country, and back in the sport.
Bartlett, now at the University of Pretoria, has been around the coaching scene for a while now, having also won the National First Division title with Golden Arrows.
McCarthy is in his debut season as a head coach at Cape Town City, while Fortune, if things go according to plan, looks likely to be appointed as an assistant to Bafana coach Stuart Baxter.
The trio needs no introduction in the Mother City. They are an inspiration to the kids who roam the streets of the city, armed with a ball at their feet.
The trio represents the best of us; they are an example of what is possible.
Because the streets they come from do not define who they are; the dusty streets of the Cape are still within them, and they used it as fuel for the journey to conquer the gold-tinged football streets of Europe.
As the mellifluous Carole King sings in City Streets: “Oh, city streets, the stories that they tell; Oh, city streets, they can be heaven, they can be hell.”
McCarthy knows the streets and alleyways of Hanover Park like the back of his hand, Fortune skipped and skedaddled the streets and paths of Kewtown, while Bartlett weaved his spindly legs through Skutter Plein and Skepe Plein to reach the open field in 14th Avenue in Factreton, where he first started playing the football that would one day make him an international star. (I know because I, too, am from Skepe Plein, and witnessed Bartlett growing up on those desolate streets).
The streets are an inspiration, not a yoke – and McCarthy, Bartlett and Fortune are living proof of what can be achieved when opportunity meets motivation, determination and action.
Because as much as these three Capetonians have accomplished, all of them will definitely acknowledge the many who went before – the many footballers who, during the jackboot reign of apartheid, had very little opportunity; highly talented players who almost certainly had the ability to grace the world’s football stage (the names are just too many to mention).
The streets, at the time, were sites of despair and desperation. The outlook was bleak and opportunity was absent.
But the streets, as always, can be heaven or hell – it is what you make of it.
And so, in the 1990s, at the onset of democracy, when opportunity finally knocked, McCarthy, Bartlett and Fortune – armed with the experience of the streets – the hard knocks they had learnt, with the streetwise culture of the streets, they turned it into an asset to take on the world.
The streets are still the same – the gang culture, the rabid violence and the hopelessness are still as prevalent.
While the oppressive boot of the former regime has gone, it has been replaced by a cold, callous government more in tune with its own avarice than the needs on the streets.
But, despite this – because an individual is responsible for his own destiny – there are opportunities, which is far less than we had more than 25 years ago.
So, in reflecting on the streets where we come from, it is certainly incumbent on the youth of today to make the most of the possibilities available.
Keep the streets deep within, but it need no longer be hell; the chain can be broken.