Football: Low regard on high veld

Andy Colquhoun in Cape Town finds a nation proving immune to World Cup fever
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The Independent Online
THE day after South Africa played their final match on home soil before France 98, the World Cup made the second lead on the back page of the Cape Times. But the story headlined "Whether they admit it or not, it's a World Cup warm-up" was actually a preview of Thursday's one-day cricket international between South Africa and England at The Oval and the World Cup in question was next year's cricket slogfest.

The Times' main story was about who is going to be the new coach of the Western Province rugby team while the report on Bafana Bafana's (as the football team are known) 1-1 draw with Zambia made only the third lead. The report was scarcely bigger than that on Real Madrid's European Cup triumph over Juventus.

You do not have to go to Mars if you want to escape the World Cup, just pack your bags for Cape Town. Never mind World Cup fever; this place has not even got World Cup runny nose. If you are white, that is.

The township shebeens of Guguletu, Nyanga and Khayaletisha on the Cape Flats were busy as Bafana Bafana rehearsed for their first appearance in the finals. But not packed. And only around 20,000 turned up at the 80,000 capacity Soccer City in Johannesburg to say farewell in person to the boys.

But that's South Africa. Apartheid's creed of "separate development" has left a legacy of three countries, perhaps more, running in parallel within the same geographic borders. Nelson Mandela's new democracy may have broken down the institutional barriers but the cultural ones are only slowly blurring and it may be years before the rugby World Cup slogan of "one team, one country" has a sustainable resonance.

It is easily demonstrated. Walk down Cape Town's Adderley Street and stop a white, black and Cape coloured man and ask them which football teams they support. Depending on his age the white will tell you he follows Arsenal, Wolves, Manchester United or Liverpool. He might well have not set foot outside of Africa but he will be passionate about his team. The black is likely to opt for either of the Soweto giants, Orlando Pirates or Kaiser Chiefs, regardless of the fact that he may never have seen Johannesburg, and the coloured fan may well have two: Liverpool or Manchester United and one of Cape Town's coloured township sides such as Santos or Cape Town Spurs.

"South Africans are still waking up after years of every kind of isolation you can think of," said Richard Maguire, the editor of Africa's biggest football magazine, the Cape Town-based Kick Off. "They are probably aware that the World Cup is big - but no bigger than the Chiefs or Pirates. It's part of the South African mindset that if it's over there it doesn't really matter. We got so used to just playing against ourselves that we're not really part of the global village yet. The South Africans who play in Greece and Turkey are heroes in those countries because Bafana Bafana are in the World Cup finals but here we're still concerned about the league and cup."

The Zambian match was the first in charge for new French coach Philippe Troussier, who has replaced the successful local man Clive Barker. After a shaky start with the local press - he wouldn't speak to them - Troussier has been on a charm offensive, appearing on television almost every night.

But Troussier has been in splendid isolation. World Cup promotions, advertisements linked to the tournament and competitions to win trips to France have made barely a ripple. "I'm sure when Bafana Bafana play every tavern is going to be mobbed and there'll be dancing in the streets when we win a game - if we win a game - and if we don't there'll be even more excitable post-mortems," Maguire said. "But what has the World Cup meant to us before? We failed miserably to qualify last time and before that we had no involvement at all.

"South Africans are pretty clueless about geography or politics, rather disdainful of every other nation in Africa and fairly convinced of their own superiority. Perhaps the fact that we have a French coach, a Dutch goalie and a German midfielder hasn't helped.

"But don't worry, my team - Arsenal - have done the Double, and I'm going to France and I'm excited."

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