Is everyone around you wearing strident yellow shirts? Are people holding bright, rectangular, multi-coloured pieces of cloth that flutter in the wind? Do you hear a loud, discordant noise (probably being blasted repeatedly and at odd hours of the night)? If you can answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions, chances are you’re in South Africa during the Soccer World Cup.
I must confess that I don’t really do sports. Cricket I find unbearably droll (matches that last five days? Five days? You’ve got to be kidding me), rugby is a big, bulky (how long is a game again? 70 minutes? 80 minutes? Nine hours?) well, over an hour of guys running into each other. It always looked so, well, silly to me. And they throw the ball backwards. But they run forwards. Am I the only one that sees the problem here? Anyway, I’ve derailed a bit. What I’m trying to say is, despite my general indifference to sport, I was really excited about the opening game of the World Cup. Bafana Bafana (though their supporters look like Banana Bananas) vs Mexico.
The patriotism and pride thumped through Cape Town this weekend, and everyone was bevlag. Flags on cars, in hands, on faces, in hair, or tied on nonchalantly as capes. Whenever I saw one of these South Arican superheroes, for some unexplainable reason, a line from the Sterie Stumpie (flavoured milk) advert ran through my head: “Equal rights for all flavours!” and, of course, “Amandla Marshmallow!”
Anyway. All of the yellowness, the thousands of flags plastered everywhere, and the loud verrrrrrrrrrrp of the vuvuzela created an almost electrical excitement that snapped and crackled through my veins and sparked across my chest. Basically, I was amped about the soccer (and feeling very patriotic). And not just because the players are hot (yeah girls can perve too, you know).
Now in my infinite wisdom, I have decided to explain the very few rules of soccer to you. This way when everyone yells at the screen and asks the ref what the WAKA he thinks he’s doing, you can yell too in full understanding of what caused this rage. I have had many tutors over the years – my brothers (who still won’t let me play soccer with them on the Playstation, not that I care, it’s not like I need soccer to feel fulfilled, you know, I mean soccer is stupid anyway), friends and random enthusiasts. Now I shall impart their soccer knowledge on to you.
1) No hands. Instead you must move the ball around with your feet and head. When people shout “Hand ball!” this means the player has absentmindedly actually used the hands we have spent millenia evolving, instead of ignoring them as Sepp Blatter intended.
2) Add dramatic flair. We all know watching 90 minutes of sport is an arduous task for even the most faithful fanatic. This is why soccer players spice things up with some high drama. Two players collide, and with a Shakespearian twist one falls, writhing in agony, to the floor. We can only imagine the wordless soap opera dramatics that happen before the injury. Of course, the game must go on, so all players jump up and continue playing once their scene is over.
3) Corner shot. OK, you might not have noticed, but there are white lines all over the field. Willa, ardent soccer maestro, very kindly explained this to me (he agreed to be my tutor) on Saturday as we watched the USA vs UK game (which super-power/colonist are YOU rooting for?). The ball is only allowed to stay in the lines. If someone kicks it over the outside lines, one of the players gets to take it to a corner and kick it from there. This is very, very good and makes the game much better. It equalises everything. And we like equality. Equality is our favourite quality.
4) Offsides. Wow. All right. This is a tricky one. Pieter-Louis, soccer nut, tried (note the operative word – tried) to explain this me with salt shakers and pepper pots and sweet chilli mayo sauce at Die Mystic Boer in Stellenbosch, in a way that made me wonder if we could please just get some chips now, please? The defender makes a line with his foot, you see, and you can’t cross it if you’re attacking people with a ball. It’s very important and makes people very cross. My girl friends and I habitually try to explain this to each other. So far we have had no light bulb moments. BUT we all know that this is a very, very important rule.
Soccer isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the excitement over the World Cup can get a little unbearable. Hopefully this small tutorial will help you to enjoy the game with a fuller understanding of its intricate complexities, so you can comprehend what the waka is going on. I’ll be explaining other unfathomable World Cup related things this month too so we can band together in a fuller understanding of this beautiful game. The Onion also has a very useful pictogram that you should check out.
I wrote about my experience of the opening game for Fairlady, to read it click here.
Welcome to the World Cup! May the gees be with you.