Down at The Loft Bar on 7 th Laan Melville, they were all barracking for England. The crowd was mixed — Melville is kinda the Fitzroy/Newtown of Jo’burg, and more like Brisbane’s West End than both. But it’s a mix of mixing if you know what I mean.
Some of the bars seem exclusively occupied by black and coloured people, some are mostly white — there don’t seem to be any all-white bars, and some are genuinely, thoroughly mixed.
There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it — there are white bartenders in the black bars, and in a pizza joint filled with white schlubs keen on football and carbs, the black manager was very publicly chewing out a white teenage waiter.
It’s just possible that the whole thing was random, and I was spandrelising — taking circumstantial patterns to be evidence of deeper structure.
Outside, on the pavement, were all the people who couldn’t afford to be inside.
They were all black.
In The Loft, as I say, the outbreak of St George flags surprised me. Melville is full of guest houses, and the street had been filled in the early morning with pasty English types wandering around in the red and white, waiting for the bus to Bloemfontein. The T-shirts I could understand, but what sort of person paints their face before a three hour bus trip? Diehards I guess. Or idiots. Or both.
“Why are you supporting England?” I asked the guy next to me. I hoped the lilt in my voice might carry the imputation of the rest of the sentence “…when they set up all the race laws that preceded apartheid proper, ran a gulag in Kenya, and never raised a peep against the Afrikaners over four decades of oppression?”
“Ah they are our brothers in the Commonwealth again,” he said, smiling.
“Yah plus they’re going to lose,” said the Afrikaner bartender.
“Yes they certainly are.”
Boy was that the truth. Capello’s clowns not only went down to the Teutonic onslaught of Germany, they notched up their worst ever World Cup result since they went down to Uruguay 4-2 in 1954. It was extraordinary to watch, more like a mismatch in the groups a la Brazil — Monaco or something, than two A-list teams. Germany’s two goals in the first half were ten minutes apart, at 20 and 30 minutes in — flawless, unflashy teamwork in tight play that slid the ball effortlessly around the English defenders.
That was bad enough, but the two in the second half were four minutes apart, both taking advantage of an inexplicably inept English defence, which left German players with a quarter of the field to themselves. The third goal was earned by Germany relentlessly sending it back into the goalmouth, England unable to clear it. The fourth, almost immediately, showed England in a state of sudden demoralised disarray.
Even the solid base of English supporters in the bar — hell even I was supporting England — couldn’t restrain their joy at the sheer beauty and authority of German play. The whole street was yelling.
To be fair, the English suffered from a bad call in the first half — having got the score to 2-1 in the first half, Frank Lampard had then taken a second when a drive hit the top-post and went down a foot or so into goal — but wasn’t seen by either referee.
For the English this was a haunting occurrence, full of nemesis — it was after all an exact reverse of the situation in England’s only cup final win of 1966, when England’s third goal (of a 4-2 win) was awarded on the basis of a similar deflection that, it seems, did not go in. Ever since, there has been an avalanche of debate as to whether England would have got its fourth goal had it not been awarded the third.
Today, it has to be wondered if England would have fallen apart in the second half had they gone into it 2-2. The triple whammy of being behind, a non-awarded goal, and the unbelievable symmetry of circumstance could not but have a pretty powerful effect. Furthermore, this is not 1966 — thirty seconds after the non-goal, there was ample multi-angled footage to show how wrong the referees were. The event shows that the archaic system whereby there’s no referral to a video (as there is in US football) simply can’t continue.
Mind you, even the most generous non-English England supporter found to hard to be fussed, after Ghana’s tremendous victory against the US the day before. Now that was a thing. Ghana took a first goal barely five minutes in, and from then it was a knock-down drag out fight throughout, with both teams playing relentless attacking games.
Ghana had the best of it for most of the match proper, with the US gaining their equaliser off a penalty, and only surviving numerous other attempts at goal.
As extended time started, the whole bar, street, country held its breath. When Ghana’s second goal came barely five minutes in, the excitement went through everyone like a wire. It was an incredible goal pulled out of the air, and delivered into the net in one smooth motion. On the TV, the stadium was a sea of flags with the black star rising. The noise was even, inside and out.
There’s a lot that’s crappy about this World Cup. The South African organisers fell into lock-step with FIFA’s corporatist vision. McDonald’s sponsors the kids walk on at the start of the game (which is why they’re in red and yellow). Catering at the venues is crappy generic sh-t, and local vendors are banned for a kilometre around the stadiums. The official song is performed by Shakira, who these days is about as white as a smear of mayonnaise. Of all the things Africa needs to import, you’d have to say that dance music is about the last on the list.
But when the 120th minute ticked over, it was a great moment to be on this continent, the near full moon shining across the walls and the electric wire, the sheet metal and the malls alike. It won’t sanctify any of it, but it’s still a black star rising.