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The Horrific Letdown in South Africa

So, how bad was that game? I was inside the frigid Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria (you too, Zach?), and it was bad in the stands before it got bad on the pitch. South African fans have a strange, angsty relationship with Bafana Bafana. On the one hand, a Bafana triumph is held to have a sort of mystical, even quasi-political power. Everyone I went to see this morning before I drove out of Bloemfontein, not really a soccer city, was wearing a yellow jersey over their jackets and touting how important a win over Uruguay would be to South Africa's psychology, to creating a sense of common national good.

On the other hand, nobody in the stadium seemed to hold out much hope. People love to hate on Bafana Bafana. Every missed cross provokes howls of scorn, more than the artful passes get praise. The vuvuzela is supposed to amplify the impact of South Africa's supporters, but I find it oddly has the reverse effect, dampening the vibe by replacing your usual colorful sporting-event shouts of encouragement and chants with that uniform, passionless drone; a vuvuzela-outfitted crowd sounds less like a group of fans than a swarm of demented hornets. And when the people sitting around me tonight weren't honking, they were - even before Uruguay scored a goal - shouting the kind of desperate, slightly contemptuous messages you hear directed at teams that make an art of letting down their fans, such as "Shoot!", "Your goal is the other way," and "Stop breaking our fucking hearts."

Still, a team doesn't always have to win to bond its supporters. Letdown is also a shared experience, of a sort. Maybe Bafana Bafana can be South Africa's Chicago Cubs.