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Culture, Reality, Sport

Last Train to Nationbuilding

by Roger Young, image by Jason Bronkhorst / 14.06.2010

It was the second to last train into town, around quarter past eight, the night before the soccer started. Cold, we huddled on the platform at Kenilworth; normal South African types, mostly male, as the trains at this hour have always had a bad reputation. The Cameroonians said “five minutes” into their cell phones, the Moslem dude scolded a Woodstock gangster type for hassling an obvious student for a skyf.

The train pulled in, we got on. A young drunken English football fan was trying to hang a string of flags from one end of the carriage to the other. Two scouse girls, in plaid and that dyed blonde-with-a-streak-of-colour hair that you see from punk clubs to hipster hangouts, were loudly wondering why football stars got paid more than paramedics, like her mother, who God knows struggled to save the money to pay for them to come to the World Cup. They smoke like people from Pinetown. The gangster dude sits close next to them, practically on the one girls bag. South African eyes are passed around to each other, that here-we-go look. The big scouse quickly whips her bag away and gives him a look, you know she’ll go head to head with him if he tries.

He gets up and wanders down the train, starts a conversation about football with the drunk flag dude. From the carriage next to us the sound of vuvus blast through. At Newlands, some more youngish, drunkish football fans get on. Brazilians. They sit opposite the gangster and the flag guy who are now working in unison to hang the banner. I notice for the first time that flag guy has a friend who sits quietly in the corner. A conversation starts up about Brazil vs England. Gangster is slowly pulling flags off the string and stuffing them in his pocket. The debate between the English and the Brazilians is getting louder, alcohol is being drunk from plastic bags. The Cameroonians leave at Rondebosh, somewhere between there and Rosebank, I see it happen, a lot of us see it happen, gangster dude hugs flag guy, and steals his wallet from his back pocket. It was going to happen, we all knew it, but there was a kind of hope that it wouldn’t. Gangster dude, “drunkenly” grapples with the door between compartments and takes flag guy with him, the other English and the Brazilians follow. The scouse girls complain about how full Long Street is going to be. I look out the window at the passing darkness, the Moslem dude looks at the floor shaking his head.

I get off the train in Salt River. The compartment after me spits out a few newly flush locals. On the train the soccer fans dance, happy, oblivious, as they head toward the city.

Image © Jason Bronkhorst.

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