SWC: The sadness sets in

2010-07-13 14:13
Spain celebrate (File)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – So, when do I take down the Dutch and Ghanaian flags from the dashboard of my car? I stubbornly can’t seem to bring myself to do it yet, and I see that I am not alone.

The South African flag that flapped for a few weeks from the boot? That’s gone, liberated a little more mysteriously. Perhaps somebody thoughtfully decided for me that I should not wallow in nostalgia, now that the World Cup 2010 party is over.

Shrinks and medical people have been at pains to confirm that there is no such thing as post-World Cup depression: for better or for worse, life as we knew it will quickly resume, I have no doubt.

And yet I am consumed at present by a far more tangible sense than I’d anticipated of sadness and anti-climax.

Some acquaintances mocked me the other day when I suggested the end of the tournament was a reminder of our mortality. “Aww, do you want us to leave a message for your wife and children?” they good-naturedly berated me.

I am certainly not especially inclined toward melancholy, but the only point I was making is that a true international “peoples’ event” of this magnitude is unlikely to revisit South African shores in the rest of my middle-aged lifetime.

My soon to be nine-year-old son, who fascinatingly embraced this World Cup like so many other kids of his age, happily has a far better likelihood of it happening.

When I say event of this scale, of course, I do really mean only the soccer World Cup … because I have been able to confirm irrefutably for myself, over the course of the magical month and attendance countrywide at a dozen matches, that nothing comes close to it on the sports front for multi-cultural warmth, fervour and excitement.

I have “done” in my journalistic career Wimbledon -- a genuinely grand dame of an event, I fast discovered – world title boxing bouts, rugby’s biggest tournaments and been in the Lord’s bubble for every day of the desperately-awaited first Ashes Test of landmark 2005 in England.

Pretty close, and each with their own forms of magic … but no SWC cigar.

Don’t get me started on the Olympics: I can’t see anything altering my very spirited view that another bid for the Games, cashing in on the World Cup bouquets that have flooded our way, is a foolhardy course of action.

It is a completely different animal, especially given its limiting, basically one-city requirement.

This World Cup was well and truly “made” by the consistent support and vibrancy of the fans, and especially South Africans - not all of whose pockets run eternally deep, let’s not forget.

In our economically and socially still-lopsided country, an Olympics, which by its very nature celebrates elitism in so many respects, will not come nearly as close to monopolising discussion on every street corner.

It would be an opportunity, as has almost certainly been the FIFA case more recently, for a relatively small group of top administrators to make obscene, largely undisclosed fortunes.

Oh yes, and leave us some state-of-the-art facilities for shottists, who probably already command rather too much of our domestic terrain, when you think about it.

Sorry, but you’d have to offer immeasurably less dear “Category D” tickets than the World Cup’s R140 ones if you wished to get even vaguely acceptable numbers of ordinary South Africans through Olympic turnstiles. (Probably minus their vuvuzelas, too, which I never despised personally for one second from June 11 to July 11.)

Soccer’s global allure and marvellous simplicity played a major part, I have no doubt, in South Africans’ exceptional spirit of bonhomie and hospitality for four weeks.

Our people could either readily identify with the uniquely broad language of football, or in other cases badly wanted to - which was just as gratifying.

And it may sound silly, but I possibly learnt more in a single month of internal travel about the inhabitants, far and wide, of our planet than I could ever expect to in a book or on a TV show.

I breakfasted with a charming Chilean family in a guest house at Nelspruit, shared beers with humorously philosophical English supporters in Rustenburg as it became pretty clear their tournament might unravel prematurely, marvelled at Ghana’s supporters’ ability to turn Pretoria temporarily and unusually into a pulsating Little Accra.

And I shared tables in huge but sometimes mercifully warm media marquees with counterparts from Korea, Honduras, China and India, most of them singing my country’s praises.

The good-naturedness of it all: that was what particularly grabbed me about World Cup 2010.

Isn’t this meant to be a sport routinely tainted by hooliganism? If I saw with own eyes one trampled pavement-side plant or one vandalised lamp-post bin, it was a lot.

No, I don’t mind confessing that just for the time being, as the thousands of yellow direction signs come down countrywide and those little multi-coloured huts on the intoxicating fan walk toward Green Point await dismantling or the back of some truck, I am not feeling like the happiest bunny in the hutch.

That was one awesome month, more so because it was not especially made thus by the calibre of the soccer itself. It was all about … us.

Ayoba, just one more time.

Those flags beneath my windscreen? You know, maybe they’ll just stay there until the car collapses around them.

Once in a lifetime? Fo sho.
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