Not Getting My Kicksby Dave Dunton, illustration by Rico / 22.07.2010
I don’t get soccer. I realize this is probably not going to be a popular view, with the iconic drone of happy vuvus still ringing in our ears; but there it is.
Believe me, this is not due to a lack of trying – I watched most of the World Cup’s big games, and a few of the small ones too. Because after years of being a dedicated rugby, cricket and tennis follower, I thought it was time to give this soccer thing a full go. And in truth I’ve had a jol – soaking up the gees at the stadium, fan park, fan walk, pizza evenings with friends etc. It’s just the small matter of the actual game which has left me unsatisfied. Like that feeling you get after a meal of fruit. Invariably, once the excitement of watching the opening minutes of each game dissipated, I’d find myself fiddling on my phone or having a good ol’ yak with a mate. This simply would not happen during a rugby Test match. No way. My eyes would be fixed to the screen in some sort of holy communion with the lumbering neanderthals to whom I entrust my sporting mojo. But why, I asked myself? I think I have a few answers… or ‘busks’ to be more precise.
The most obvious reason is that I’m a 30 something, white, middleclass, male South African. I make no apologies for this accident of birth, but it does mean I went to a privileged private school where rugby, cricket and tennis were the only real options. Soccer was something that black people and foreigners played. But I was 17 in those dark distant days. The world has changed; and so have I – back then I slept 10hrs a night, and was terrified of women. Today I’m married to one, and we have a baby. Point being, I don’t think the “didn’t play soccer at school” argument really flies as a reason for not enjoying the game later in life. So I pondered some more…
Essentially, sport is a metaphor for life – the dreams, trials and sheer exhilaration of the whole caboodle. Like the people’s lives they reflect, the pantheon of sports is made up of varying combinations of honest endeavor, poetry and luck. And for me, soccer’s dice is just too heavily loaded with the latter quality. As Nicholas Hobbes writes in Stumped. The Sports Fan’s Book of Answers, the scarcity of goals in soccer “means that no result is ever a foregone conclusion. A soccer team can snatch a draw with a single goal in the dying seconds.” This chance element means that patently weaker teams can compete with stronger ones – witness minnow Switzerland’s 1-0 win over eventual World Cup winners Spain in the first round, small-fry Algeria holding mighty (allegedly) England to a 0-0 draw, Germany losing to Serbia 1-0, lowest ranked (105) Korea DPR holding their own against No 1 Brazil, and semi-amateur no-hopers New Zealand not losing a single match!
Compare this to the first Test of this year’s Tri-Nations when the Boks were humbled 32-12. No miracle was going to save our boys in the dying seconds. Yes, it felt kak having our mojo trampled upon. But it felt right, and fair. New Zealand may have had some luck, sure, but it was clearly their honest endeavor and poetry that was ultimately our undoing. Of course there are many close rugby, cricket and tennis matches too, but only when the game truly is close – the scoreboard constantly reflects the status of the match as tries, penalties, runs, wickets or points are scored. The best team wins. Now there’s a good thought!
That said, luck does have its place in all sport, giving it that essential edge of unpredictability. But make it too big a part of the game, and the metaphor loses meaning. Life’s just not like that for me. I like to rely more on my honest endeavor and poetry (figuratively!). Clearly some other people do too, because there’s even a word for it: meritocracy. I don’t need or want to depend on a winning Lotto ticket for my kicks.
But hang on a minute, soccer and the lottery are enormously popular the world over. Positively massive in fact. Which got me to thinking that this answer/busk of mine still had some way to go down the rabbit hole…
So who are these soccer-mad, Lotto playing masses? The simple answer is that they are largely the poor and working classes. Sweeping generalization this may be, I feel it has some truth to it. Indeed, the Lotto is colloquially known as “the tax on the poor”. For a middleclass person whose basic needs are met (and then some), why bother wasting your time dabbling on a fiddly long-shot you don’t really need? But for millions of people, that long-shot is the only shot they think they have at raising their station in life. And soccer’s skew towards luck perfectly mirrors that headspace. The thing is, it isn’t my reality. And no month long soccer crash-course is gonna change that.
* Illustration © Rico.