World Cup can help the poorest parts of South Africa

Expectation Mr Rooney, I’ll give you expectation. Before we’d even put our boots on, the local populace had taken to the street to celebrate our mythical football talents.



Boys had awaited our arrival in the midday sun. As our small convoy finally came into sight on the Matlala Road, deep in the bushveld of Limpopo province near South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe, they waved British flags and sounded their vuvuzelas in delight.

The girls of the village, in matching pink turbans, shuffled a dance of greeting with their percussion instruments, fashioned from refuse bags and small stones, fastened to their ankles. Would that we were so creative, so nimble of foot!

As we climbed the glass strewn path up the hill to the Waschbank community pitch, the village flocked to be beside us. Small children followed in our wake, elderly women carried aloft the chairs they would place at the touchline to watch the ensuing game and our frighteningly youthful opposition exhibited their impressive ball skills in the hope that we would recommend them to Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford.

We had travelled to South Africa primarily to watch the world’s best professionals play for Brazil, Spain and Germany. That night we would travel to the stadium at Polokwane to watch Lionel Messi’s Argentina. But it was the experience of playing the youth teams of Waschbank would be our most lasting memory of the 2010 World Cup.

We’d had the presumption to dress in a specially-designed kit, a garish shirt quartered in the orange of Luton Town, the green of Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth blue and Liverpool red, with the white sleeves of Arsenal, sadly all affiliations derived from the terraces rather than the field of play. The pretence couldn’t last forever. Our first opponents, the City Brothers, were a Masonic-sounding outfit with secret powers in retaining possession. Our forty-something limbs were creaking and the sound of mocking laughter floated down from the wooden stands. One-nil to the Brothers.

We muttered about the heat, the altitude, and the pitch - balder than any one of us. So fine was the soil that every tackle and every pass created a huge cloud of dust, like a battlefield explosion. Our rare sorties up the pitch must have resembled Captain Mainwaring taking Dad’s Army over the top. Who did we think we were kidding? Two-nil to the Brothers.

By the second half we were getting acclimatised, keeping the final score to an almost respectable 1-3 before allowing the Brothers to take on their Waschbank rivals, the Eleven Experience, who we would only play when they were suitably exhausted. The plan worked and after a goalless draw we celebrated a 7-5 win on penalties.

After which we got to see Waschbank beyond the football field. The local chief Rosetta Maraba, presided over a feast of tripe and pap (mielie-meal made from maize), a rare treat when meat is a weekly luxury.

In an isolated village, with crippling levels of illiteracy, significant problems with HIV and few employment prospects beyond farm labouring, the Waschbank Community Centre is a gateway to a better life. Its motto is Re A Itirela (“We are doing it for ourselves” in the Sepedi language), and it is dedicated to teaching villagers to read and write, to master computer skills and to find ways of starting their own small businesses.

The local economy is being bolstered by local people offering tourists the chance to stay in their homes. Not only did our landlady give us a charming room, but two pales of water, one cold and one heated to near boiling point on her garden bonfire. Decanting the two, while sat in the tin bath provided, was as challenging as it was invigorating.

The internet and tourism will help to connect Waschbank to the wider world but the ability of football to achieve a similar purpose should not be discounted. The game might increasingly be seen as rotten in the land of its inception but in rural South Africa it is unquestionably a force for good.

After the meal we moved to the village bar, a rollover garage empty except for a few milk crates and a television. The shebeen owner brought bottles of Hansa beer as the lock-up filled with excited villagers, thrilled at the sight of the South African national side, the Bafana Bafana, outclassing the former world champions France.

White people, let alone foreigners, are unusual visitors in these parts and we were told that our football tourism had given encouragement to the village.

At this World Cup, the chosen sport of the black majority - frowned on during the apartheid years - has put South Africa at the centre of the world. Throughout the country, among both whites and blacks, this is a source of undisguised pride. The tournament is expected to generate a $100m windfall for the country’s football authorities and hopefully some of it will filter through to rural areas where the game plays an important role.

Up on the Waschbank football field, the village’s key source of recreation (save for a vaulting horse made from a piece of rock), helps unite the young men in a community where many fathers have died young. When the City Brothers and the Eleven Experience play against nearby villages, Waschbank climbs the grassy incline to give them its support. “Soccer is loved,” said Mapule Molatjane, a village community worker. “With these kids it’s not about money, it’s about the love of it.”

For further information on staying in Waschbank, visit www.classact.org.za

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific