CAPE TOWN - Football, they always say, is the ballet of the masses. It has its roots, its history, in the workers, factories, mines, shops and ordinary folk just trying to get by every day. It has its heart in the love and passion, and in the extraordinary hold it has on those who fervently follow the sport.
Because of this, football is not just football, it’s about a whole lot more than football. It’s about communities, people, emotions; it’s about aspiration, belonging, meaning; it’s about how individuals view their world; it’s about how a nation nurtures its people; and it’s also about how a people start to understand and evaluate its leaders. In short, for the City of Cape Town, here’s the warning: Ignore football at your peril.
Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy mentioned it when he said: “I’ve been away from Cape Town for 21 years and, while so much has changed nothing has changed.” Well, I’ve been around even longer than McCarthy - and I can echo his increasing frustration and anger. As a former player - at amateur and professional level - and having done so during the height of apartheid, and into the new era, I can speak from experience: very few of the hurdles football faced back in those dark days have been removed.
Football still has to beg, borrow and steal for everything; football still has to be satisfied with the crumbs that fall from the table; football still is treated with disdain, and with officious disregard whenever it comes calling: Bow down at my feet and be grateful, you little brats, say the pretentious bureaucrats who run the Mother City.
One of my favourite football books is by Uruguayan writer and political activist Eduardo Galeano, called Soccer in Sun and Shadow. In it, there’s an extract which reads: “The scorn of many conservatives comes from their belief that soccer-worship is exactly the religion people deserve.
Possessed by soccer, the proles think with their feet, which is the only way they can think, and through such primitive ecstasy they fulfil their dreams. The animal instinct overtakes human reason, ignorance crushes culture, and the riff-raff get what they want.” In a nutshell, this is the attitude the smarmy politicians in charge of Cape Town have of football.
Let me say again, the venue problems affecting football in the region has nothing to do with Sevens rugby. Everybody knew the event was taking place. The issue at hand is how the City of Cape Town has neglected the other football venues. Yes, there is a drought - but surely there is a drought all over the Cape, not just at the region’s football venues. If Athlone Stadium has been over-used, isn’t it because there is no will or desire to upgrade venues like Vygieskraal, Philippi and others?
Remember there are not only two PSL clubs, there are also NFD clubs in need of playing grounds. It’s the tax payers’ money, it’s up to the city to ensure that football has a place to go to; it’s their duty to make sure the venues are available. The fact that the Cape’s PSL and NFD clubs had to, at great expense, play outside the Cape is, to be brutally honest, an embarrassment for Cape football, and an indictment of the City of Cape Town. I say again: Ignore football at your peril.
Let’s even remind those sitting in their cosy offices of the money they squandered through sheer incompetence when it comes to football. Millions were lost on the ill-fated Cape Town Cup in 2015; it was an event that had promise and could really have worked, but the organisation was shoddy and the marketing and promotion diabolical.
Kaizer Chiefs were also lured to play three homes games in the Cape; and the only benefit of that was the Soweto club pocketed a good few million for its already swollen coffers. Meanwhile, the football clubs who reside here have to struggle just to find a football venue. I say again: it’s not about the unavailability of Cape Town Stadium, it’s about the having the enthusiasm to look after the other venues as well, to ensure that football has somewhere to go to.
Why is it that the City of Cape Town cannot sit down with the PSL and NFD football clubs on a regular basis to thrash out the issues? And, in saying this, are they able to communicate with the clubs without having their supercilious noses in the air? Cape Town City have made it clear that they want to build their own facility - it’s no secret they have their eyes on the Old Hartleyvale precinct and they are prepared to spend around R200million on the project. But, even here, expect more upheaval, in another classic example of how football is tied up in knots in this city. Zaid Omar, the owner of amateur club FC Kapstadt, the current user of the Hartleyvale facility, has warned that he will take any planned eviction notice all the way to the High Court.
These are the types of corners the City of Cape Town has painted itself into because of its lack of planning and foresight when it comes to football. As players, we always say that the worst blindness in football is only seeing the ball because a player has to be aware of so many peripheral things during game situations. So, too, let me say, in the same way, in politics, and in administration, the worst blindness is seeing football as only football; because, rest assured, there is a whole lot more taking place on the periphery. Don’t under-estimate the power of football. Ignore it at your peril. People have long memories.