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by Jill Lieberman

Part 1: What a Day!

Soccer mania has taken over our lives. It's been long awaited, but the actual countdown began 100 days ago. Kids in school marked it off on charts. Radio and TV never stopped reminding us. Products of every possible item you can imagine hit the streets and the shops in the colours of the South African flag. Flags a'waving at every traffic light and stop street – the street vendors never had it so good. Even flag coloured mirror covers for the side mirrors of the cars – genius!

The effects of this once in a lifetime event were felt long before the first kick off. Children learnt about the world map in a new and inspiring way, finding countries to match the flags, mini World Cup soccer matches were played at schools and World Cup-cakes, decorated with edible soccer balls, appeared at tuck-shops. A World Cup concert at King David Victory Park produced all the soccer songs and ‘Ag Pleez Deddy' from 1960 was even re-written:

Ag pleez Deddy won't you take us to the soccer
All six, seven of us, eight, nine, ten
We wanna see Bafana and we know you've got ‘contacts'
And when the match is over then we wanna go a- gain”
And then it was June 11, 2010! Eish! What a day!

I only became a soccer fan the week before the World Cup started. I rushed out to the Fifa World Cup offices to get tickets for the Bafana game against Uruguay because if a non-soccer person from South Africa is going to the soccer and spending thousands for tickets then that person wants to watch a Bafana match.

I watched the opening match on a huge open screen at a big plaza locally. I took my grandkids so their parents could go to the opening match. We had a blast. It was magic.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with people of all colours and religion listening to their chants and their songs, their remonstrations with the players and the refs, the infectious laughter, their knowledge of the game and their total involvement really took the vibe to the next level. The interaction, good humour and camaraderie is what this World Cup is about.

I cried a lot. It was moving beyond belief. Before the kickoff was a performance, an African presentation. When hundreds of ‘ousies' – traditional black ladies – came out onto the field in their rich costumes, smiling, shining faces and tribal dance rhythms…I cried. When they turned huge earth coloured cloths into a map of Africa, when a humungous ‘dung beetle' with about 10 runners under it rolled a soccer ball on the field…I cried.

And when we eventually scored our first goal a euphoric roar went up from the soul of the nation. It said ‘we are all South African'. It was heartstopping.

Part 2: My First Soccer Match

I have just been to my first World Cup soccer match: Bafana vs Uruguay. The entire experience from beginning to end was organised with military precision, no stone unturned, every detail taken care of.

The vuvuzelas ruled. There is a whole vuvuzela culture, which includes a language where the sound varies in intensity, complete with songs and rhythms played out as the game unfolds. Gestures, harsh notes, angry blasts, excited approval and a specific kind of ‘echo-speak'; all of these tones familiar and beloved to the multitudes of soccer fundis. The only time they were hushed was to sing the anthem. Otherwise they drowned out everything.

As for the match, well don't quote me on this, it is my own unaided assessment and from one who knows nothing about soccer so this must not be taken as gospel, but…well…ho hum…if you have seen one game you have seen them all. They're all the same: Grown men leaping into each other's arms, tearfully, hugging and kissing each other, overcome and emotional when they score a goal, or falling to the ground in despair and writhing when they don't.

The real core of excitement was in the crowds, the costumes, the flag waving, the singing and the vuvuzelas. It's a whole World Cup soccer culture. Actually you have to use earplugs to save your brains from being fried, so that kind of locks you into your own private inner world and muffles out the sound of the vuvuzelas. You then have to listen to yourself crunching veggie chips (smuggled in against Fifa's rules that no outside food can be brought in) and singing the national anthem. But then I took out the earplugs and got used to the vuvus.

When it comes to a World Cup soccer game, you have to contend with the crowds, the cold, the noise, the Fifa dictatorship, spilt beer and a somewhat bizarre cultural experience and you find yourself wondering if you shouldn't just curl up under your soft duvet and watch from there, but my advice is ‘Go to the Game!'

Part 3: The World Cup is Over

No matter how many times we'll read this as a headline in newspapers or magazines, or hear it on TV, it still brings a sense of regret and wistfulness that comes with all good endings.

What a time it was. What a beautiful, wonderful time. It was a time of bonding. A time of focusing on an event that wasn't about our ridiculous political leaders or the crime rate or poverty or housing problems or unemployment.

It was about a game. It was about skill and excellence. It was intensely colourful, deeply uplifting, inspiring and fun. It brought us together in a unique way. That wonderfully radiant smile on the face of our Nelson Mandela and the triumphant burst of fireworks above Soccer City at the closing ceremony, said it all. It said: “We won.”

Us, the people of South Africa who made it happen, who witnessed the emergence of a country that can and did, who revelled in the joy and festivities for a spectacular month.

They'll say that Seth Blatter and Fee Fi Fo Fum ripped us off and are laughing all the way to the bank. They'll say the money should have been spent on housing the poor. They'll say that when we rub the stars out of our eyes we'll see national debt for years to come. They'll say the stadiums will now become expensive reminders of excess. They'll say all this and more. Let them…It was a great time.

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Posted by Jill Lieberman
01 Aug 2010

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