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Culture, Sport

My Team Lost

by Sean O’Toole / 29.06.2010

The facts tell you very little: Holland beat Cameroon 2:1.

It started at Beluga, a yuppie restaurant a short walk from Green Point stadium. The eatery was an oil slick in orange. I nervously fingered my green, yellow and red scarf as I entered. R50 bought one Savannah Dry and pint of Peroni draught. We settle into a corner of the bar, next to three lone rugby fans who drink white wine from long-stemmed glasses and sneer. “Have you heard the one about the Cape Cobra that bit Schalk Burger?” asks one of them, a man in a blue button shirt. “The snake died a horrible and painful death a week later.”

The walk to the stadium passes a group of food and curio stalls. Hand-made. Halaal. Boerewors rolls. Magnetic bookmarkers. The usefulness of the last item escapes me. A queue of bodies – not cars – snakes back from the window of the McDonald’s drive-thru.

Getting into the stadium is a cinch.

Up close, the elemental nature of things strikes you. The stadium, despite its metaphorical resonances when viewed from a distance, is really just the skilful organisation of steel and concrete – inert, lifeless materials. The oval, racing-ring feel of the stadium snugly encloses a green rectangle. The seats, black and capable of folding where I sit, white and stiff down on my left, are filled with mostly orange. Samuel Eto’o reads a name on a green shirt in front of me.

The players walk onto the pitch. The vuvuzelas trumpet in unison. Here’s the thing: how does a writer render sound? Inaccurately. Here are six possibilities describing what I heard.

Proposal A: BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Proposal B: VUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!

Proposal C: BZZZZ-BZZZZZ-BZZZZZ-BZZZZZZ!

Proposal D: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Proposal E: PRRRRRR-TOOOO-TOOOO-TOOO!

Proposal F: FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

None of them are correct. Still, it is a writer’s duty to render the impossible, to fashion into an alphabet the chaos of experience. Otherwise watch TV.

Goal! I clap. Penalty to Cameroon. Goal! I scream.

Why do I support Cameroon, a country I have never been to? Achille Mbembe. Simon Njami. Bili Bidjocka. All Cameroonians.

The big screen doesn’t do replays, doesn’t debate off-sides, doesn’t linger on the showmanship of a dubious foul. Inside the oval church, it is all much more immediate – and punctuated by little distracting details. Like the young girl who won’t throw the ball back to the pitch, probably because it is near the end of the game and she is hoping to keep it. The ball boy freaks out and starts waving across the pitch like its Wimbledon. The girl throws the ball back. It ends up in the concrete moat.

85 minutes, or thereabouts: Arjen Robben is on the pitch. The balding 26-year-old has an affected way of running; he is at once masterful and completely camp when he has the ball at his feet. The vuvuzelas trumpet after his shot rebounds off the post, offering Klaas-Jan Huntelaar an open shot on goal.

The final whistle closes proceedings. My team lost. Outside the stadium, I pass three Dutch fans, each wearing earplugs. Somehow, somewhere, somebody has exaggerated all this – the noise, the cacophony. Oh really? What surprised me most about being inside Green Point stadium were the lulls, the silent reverence and impatient boredom between the big heaving outpourings of breath. Moments of imperfect stillness and awe, privilege too.

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