Not all of you are totally as one with what football and the World Cup is all about. For those who could be accurately described as soccer ignoramuses to get the most out of their World Cup viewing, here is some sort of non-essential 10-point guide to what they call The Beautiful Game…
1. “Soccer” is really football. Well, this is what it is called in Britain, where the game originated, but that confused the Americans because they already had American football (grid-iron, that game they play while wearing spacesuits). So they renamed it “sarker” (ie soccer, which is an abbreviation of “Association Football”, the official British name given to distinguish football from Rugby Football which, as everyone at the Stanford Arms on a Saturday evening knows, is rugby, or “ruckby” in Afrikaans). It’s fine if you are confused… because we all are!
2. There is a saying, attributed to “a certain Chancellor of Cambridge University” and quoted in the Times of London on January 30, 1953, which goes… “Football (soccer) is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen”. This appears to be generally true although it perhaps should now be updated to “Football (soccer) is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen, apart from Bakkies Botha”. Rugby fans could also be forgiven for changing this to “Soccer is a wussy game played by sissies” due to the over-the-top rolling around in “extreme agony” executed by soccer players when they recognise the opportunity to get an opponent cautioned (yellow carded) or even sent off (red carded) after any decent tackle which is unlikely to even result in the tackled player receiving the slightest bruise.
Oh, dear. When soccer players aren't rolling around like big girls blouses trying to get opponents sent off, they celebrate goals like this. Not ideal.
3. OK. Time for some other basic rules. Football used to be played between two teams each consisting of 11 on-field players, a couple of substitutes (who replaced an on-field player if he died) and a manager who would do all the coaching of the players. It is now played by two teams consisting of 11 on-field players, at least five substitutes (who come on to replace a player if he is bleeding in any way or if he has picked up a bruise or if he is feeling tired and feels like a sip of Energade or if his hairstyle has been spoilt or if time needs to be wasted towards the end of the 90 minutes to ensure a draw or a win), a manager, several coaches (goalkeeping, defensive, attacking and general method acting), a psychotherapist, a specialist dietician and a small army of hairdressers. Plus a whole bunch of other hangers-on who I’m not going to bother telling you about.
4. Right. Now the whole point of a game is for one of the 10 out-field players (the goalkeeper, who wears a different colour jersey, generally stays in the goals to try to stop the other team from scoring) to whack the ball using any part of his body apart from his hands into the opposing team’s goal. This is called a goal. And you need to score more of them than the other team to win. If both teams score the same number of goals (eg. 1-1, 2-2 etc) after the “normal period” of 90 minutes, then the match, if is part of a knock-out competition such as the World Cup (apart from the group games), goes to extra-time (two halves of 15 minutes) and if, after that, it is still a draw, a penalty shoot-out ensues. This is a reasonably modern addition to the game to stop a replay having to take place and to indulge the modern fan’s predilection for instant gratification.
5. Fine. Still with me? Good! OK. Player formations. This was very simple back in the day. There was the goalkeeper (who wore No 1 on his back), two full-backs (No’s 2 and 3), a centre-back (No 5), two wing-halves (No’s 4 & 6) and, up front, there was a right-wing (7), inside-right (8), centre-forward (9), inside-left (10) and left-wing (11). Nice and simple, hey? Today, of course, we need it to be more complicated. The goalkeeper has stayed the same and generally wears No 1 on his back but coaches like to, depending on whether the team is playing at home or away and who they are playing against, use a variety of formations: 4-4-2 (four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers), 4-3-3, 5-3-2 or, in the case of Inter Milan’s semi-final second leg against Barcelona in this year’s Champions League (in which they were defending a 3-1 lead away from home) 9-0-1 (nine defenders and one very bored striker). With the amount of money at stake these days, it’s win at all costs, bru. Or get sacked.
6. Talking of money, which we know makes our greedy world go round and certainly makes the very professional round-ball game go round and round, we now get to the really important facts. Top-level players in the English Premier League get paid between 50 and 150 thousand pounds sterling a week. By their clubs. For playing football. Yes. That averages out at about R1.4 million a week. Can you imagine being 25, being of below average intelligence and coining it like that? That’s why many pro footballers get into trouble. After they’ve bought the mansion, the Aston Martin, the Lamborghini and the gold-plated Playstation, they often start spending the rest on naughty things, get caught out by a tabloid newspaper, have to explain their behaviour to their girlfriends and mummies and become even more famous. And then they carry on playing football, become even more famous and get paid more money. Nice work if you can get it, hey?
Victoria Beckham: Well ropey. With a WAG like this, a footballer could be excused for playing away. Or sticking to kissing his team-mates.
7. Because these players earn so much dosh for doing so little and become so famous, they usually only date topless models and then marry fully clothed models and dodgy pop singers. Yes, like Victoria Beckham (formerly Posh Spice). Even if you know nothing about football, you will know about this phenomenon. WAGs (or Wives And Girlfriends). Then famous footballer and famous wife “endorse” all sorts of washing-up products, shampoos and budgie cages and become even more wealthy and famous. And this is because many among us like to watch Gossip TV, read OK! Magazine and believe all the dross put out by agents and ad agencies who live similar lifestyles. I’m not at all jealous. No, really. But I digress… back to football.
8. By the time you read this, there will be less than two weeks to go before the World Cup opening ceremony at our magnificent Soccer City Stadium in Jo’burg. It’s a great shame that it is not called Nelson Mandela Stadium instead of being made to sound like a giant shopping mall selling only footballs. But there’s nothing you and I can do about that. What we can do is choose to embrace the 2010 World Cup being held in our beautiful country or not. It’s up to you. Unless you live here in Stanford, our tranquil oasis, and don’t buy newspapers or switch on the TV for a month. In which case life will continue pretty much as normal. But I urge you to take an interest in the most wonderful thing to ever happen to us. Buy a Bafana Bafana jersey (make sure it’s not a fake), blow a vuvuzela (but not after 10pm at night and certainly nowhere near the Arts Cafe where you’ll only upset the cappucino crowd) and at least attend the local soccer tournament being held on the village green on June 11. It’s going to be a lekker jol.
9. There will be 32 nations represented at this World Cup. They include Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina (who take turns to win it) and countries such as Honduras (somewhere in South America), Slovenia (which used to be part of another country and is somewhere in the Balkans) and the USA (which used to be restricted to North America but now seems to be everywhere). The 32 squads are split into eight groups of four. The top two teams in each group after the group games go through to the last 16 and start the knock-out phase until two teams are left to contest the final on July 11. I exhort you to be patriotic and support Bafana Bafana (which translates into “The Boys” in English) but you’d be delusional to expect them to make the final. But we live in hope. And we South Africans are better at living in hope than winning really important international soccer matches. So you never know.
10. OK. Please focus. This is the most important thing about the World Cup. I’m really sorry about all those locals who got really excited and turned their homes into guesthouses for one month of football in the hope of making a quick buck and becoming as rich as Wayne Rooney. It was never going to happen. And it won’t. Football fans the world over are generally working-class and won’t spend much on anything other than alcohol, take-aways and riotous visits to various brothels. They’d rather sleep on a park bench and have more cash to spend on beer the next day. No, the “Big Win” for South Africa will come in a couple of years’ time when those billions of wealthier people all over the planet, after watching South Africa show off it’s natural splendour and human warmth during the World Cup, might decide to take their holidays here. And bring aircraft carrier-loads of dosh to throw at game parks, hotels, wine estates, restaurants and fancy shops. So the real spin-offs will be felt in years to come. So much to look forward to. Be patient. Just as well we South Africans are good at doing that too, hey?
*This article was originally commissioned by Stanford River Talk, the excellent community newspaper for the ridiculously beautiful village of Stanford in the Western Cape, and appears in its June issue
I’m a great fan of architecture and Buddhism so it’s a rare and total coolness when these two passions are unified as one.
I love the diversity of the many unique figures of Buddha. And, apart from the sumptuous Chrysler building in New York, I’m mostly underwhelmed by skyscraper structures.
So it was with much fervour that I fell upon a website featuring the tallest Buddhas on our planet. This is overwhelmedness on a stratospheric scale.
Cast your gaze on the Spring Temple Buddha in Henan, China – at 428 feet (128m) the tallest Buddha built anywhere in the world…
Mmmmmmmmm. So this is the biggest Buddha but it's not my fave. I think that the Chinese, if they were going to that much trouble and expense, could have got a tad more creative with this baby...
Still, it’s fairly large, isn’t it? It’s only 104 feet taller than New York’s iconic Statue of Liberty. Breathe deeply and drink that in. And a whopping 290 feet taller than Rio’s Christo Redentor statue. To put this into context for my Pretoria viewers, the Spring Temple Buddha is 413 feet and three inches taller than Bulls and Springbok lock Bakkies Botha. Bliksemness, it would be pretty handy to have in a lineout, wouldn’t it? Ja, it would. But I don’t scheme the Chinese would accept a transfer offer, hey.
Just when you thought this story couldn’t get any taller, it does. Work is under way to erect a Buddha that, and best you adopt the lotus position, close your eyes and clear your mind for this one, will be 500 feet (152m) tall. Yowzerness, i hear you say? Well you might. India is plotting this one, to be named Maitreya Buddha and constructed at Uttar Pradesh.
And, yes, dear Hatpeople, I have procured for you the artists impression of what this will look like. Meditate on this…
The biggest it will be but, and I don't mean to be less than magnanimous here, it's a right shocker, isn't it? Not the best...
No, it isn’t. Biggest always isn’t best. Bit too much Bollywood bling going on for me. OK. Before I ruin any good karma, let’s move swiftly on to my favourite of the tallest Buddhas of the world. At a mere 233 feet, the Leshan Giant Buddha in China doesn’t quite stand up to its billing and only weighs in at No 11 among the biggest of the world’s Buddhas. No worries, mate. I love it. Living in bliss as I do in the dense coastal bush of Umdloti, South Africa, I have developed quite a rustic vibe, a bit agricultural even. So this baby is right up my ravine. And he is. Right up a ravine. Check him out…
See what I mean? Right up a ravine. And rustic. And rough-hewn. Just how I like my Buddhas to be. High, handsome and, well, a figure one can look up to. With me?
Of course you are. I’m calling him Rocky. A rocky Buddha gathers much moss. I dig that. Do you? And I love his rustic energy. I want to go to visit Rocky and sit before him and just meditate for ever. And then come home to Umdloti, campaign to become mayor and decree that a Buddha just like Rocky and at least equally as big be carved into the hill overlooking our spirited, if not all that spiritual, little idyll on the Indian Ocean. This would put ‘Hloti well on the map. And give us an icon far more iconic than that flat-topped hill over which my beloved Capetonian brothers and sisters get so spiritual. Not that I’m into oneupmanship. That wouldn’t be at all Buddhist, would it?
Dear Hatpeople, I’ve been digging around on your behalf and have discovered why former Buffoona Buffoona coach Carlos Parreira has returned to South Africa to once more pick up the poison chalice, apart from the millions of rands he gets to take back to spend in Rio.
Is your boss currently in his office? No? Good. Because you’ll need a really comfortable chair in which to relax when I break this stunning news.
Are you in his/her chair yet? OK. Cool. Here it is: it’s because he now believes that Bafana Bafana CAN win the World Cup next year!
Crikeyness, I hear you exclaim? That was also my exclamation. Wait. Here are the reasons why he believes this…
Da-dah! He's been given a new bunch of players to coach. Note the Orlando Pirates players in the new squad (they be the ones making the "crossbones" gesture, yes)...
Da-dah (2)! Lekkerness, ne? We South Africans are good at making a plan, hey? I'm sure they'll get in some engineering boffin from the University of Kakamas to work out how to move the pitch around at half-time...
Nice. We’re all sorted then. You can now go to put all your rands on us winning the World Cup. Ja, even bet what you can find in your granny’s purse. Eishness, this makes me moerse proud to be a Souff Effrikan. And a truly SA-positive-like doff of the red hat to The Sowetan for the, er, tip-off.
I reckon Parreira shouldn’t think twice before making Victor Matfield the goalkeeper. And Ricky Januarie would sommer make a perfect Javier Mascherano-like snappy-fox-terrier midfielder, hey? And, if they can lower his sights by about 20 feet, Morne Steyn to take the penalties?
And I want to see that Portuguese ponce Cristiano Ronaldo get tackled by Bakkies. Yowzerness!
Shell collecting. The most innocent and becalming of pastimes. Fresh sea air. Crashing waves caressing one’s ears. Kids building sandcastles. Seagulls wheeling and whingeing. Dogs with sticks in their mouths shaking saltwater over bodies browning under sun’s grill.
Time was when Mom and Dad would take us down the South Coast for a Sunday of bodysurfing, Coke floats and burgers and Swingball on the beach. We would wade in the rockpools, wonder at crabs and gigglingly stick our stubby little fingers into ever-alert anemone. And pick up, seemingly, huge cowrie shells almost at will.
Many years later, now that I enjoy the “live-the-holiday” luxury of blogging on my Umdloti verandah instead of enduring endless newspaper strategy meetings in drab offices, I have begun to take walks on the beach – just 40 metres away from my front door.
Bliss. It is during my seaside solo sojourns that I feel the eye-crustiness of hours spent hovering over my laptop wash away, cleansed by breezes surfing off the Indian Ocean, my feet cooled by flirtatious tides, the scrunching sand exfoliating my toes.
Umdloti beach: in more chilled times
That was until I rediscovered what I remembered to be the joys of finding the enticingly elusive cowrie shells. Those subtly coloured beetle-body shells of porcelain sheen, with the tiny teeth that once protected the gogga which lived inside. The shells that, centuries ago, were used as currency in much of the world. Eulogised in myth to boost fertility in women whose bodies are adorned with them. Oh, what elation to be had when, among myriad fragments of oystershells, mussels and limpids, I spot a cowrie furtively shooting off a watery wink at the wintery sun.
Shells on the seashore: can you spot the cowrie?
Aaah, got it... did you get it?
But no more. I have stumbled upon a secretive, sophisticated network of local cowrie collectors. And they’re scary. They emerge silently and menacingly at the crack of dawn from their hi-des double-storey homes lining Umdloti South Beach Road, clutching roneo’d copies of tide-tables in one hand and Friendly Store plastic bags in the other.
Wearing crazy-paved, granny-knitted and grotesque jerseys to defeat the early-morning chill, they fan out on the sands with nary a glance at sky or surf. Heads down they plod away, scouring around every granule of sand for any cowrie which may be trying to hide behind a piece of seaweed or Coke bottle-top. Raised glances are reserved for me, an Umdloti newbie, and they wordlessly say: “Hey, out-of-towner, don’t tread on our turf. You’re welcome to surf or build sandcastles but we have sole mining rights for cowries on this beach so naff off.”
I pretend to stare out to sea, waving occasionally at a bloke in a microlight or at a container ship headed for the Far East, all the while poking a toe around in the sand for a shape resembling that of a cowrie shell. It’s not nice.
Australian rugger players, when they’re not getting beaten up by Bok fans outside our bars and clubs, fancy themselves as being quite tough. Well, Aussies generally just fancy themselves, full stop.
So, for those of them who can read, here’s a little something to digest before lights out tonight. Er, that’s light’s out at 9pm at their team hotel, not lights out outside Karma or Jade or the Bang Bang Club at 3am.
With a grateful nod to my new friend and Cape Town funnyman Seth Rotherham of 2oceansvibe fame, I republish this gem about why our Afrikaners are just so blerry big and strong and hard. First printed in, I pork you not, the Wall Street Journal of all media organs.
Yussy, I enjoyed that. Especially the bit where former Bok Tiaan Strauss describes how he used to catch wildebeest to keep himself in shape for international matches: “Sometimes you tackle them, but mainly you sort of catch them by the horn and wrestle them to the ground.”
I like that. Did you like it, Stirling Mortlock? Good. Because apparently Bakkies Botha has been doing a little gentle sparring with kangaroos ahead of tomorrow’s game against YOU and a few of your mates at Newlands. Latest score? Bakkies 36 Kangaroos 0.
Which wouldn’t be a bad prediction to go with for tomorrow.