I’ve had football in my genes for generations. My uncle used to coach Bophelong Ladies, the team that served as a springboard for Banyana Banyana legend Portia Modise’s prolific career. My brother, who was nicknamed “Fire”, after the legendary Joel “Fire” Masilela – used to play for the Orlando Pirates U19 team before he decided to call it quits on his budding football career. My father was what you’d call a street legend in Sebokeng back in his day. Because of this rich heritage, Sunday afternoon football games were a big deal in my house.
The year was 1999 and we’d just moved to Lenasia South, in the south of Johannesburg, after the birth of my little sister in June that year. The day was a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon in October and we’d just come back from church. The routine after church was almost a ritual to help me process what I’d heard prior: cleaning my room, Sunday lunch then video games for the rest of the day. I was seven years old at the time, I was a loner and I wasn’t really into watching football routinely like the rest of my family.
But this Sunday afternoon game was special, Leeds United were going to play against Everton. We’d just gotten DSTV a few months prior so my dad had taken to watching more English Premier League football then he did local football. The special thing about this particular game was that Leeds was captained by South African national captain Lucas Radebe at the time and my dad had made it a point to try and watch all the South African players featured in international teams. I don’t remember much about the game besides the fact that Radebe had a blinder of a game and the end result was a thrilling 4-all draw.
This is one of my earliest memories of watching an EPL (now called the BPL) football game. It shaped my relationship with football for years to come, and to this day, I still occasionally support English teams that have South African players – like Everton. Talk about coming full circle.
I spoke to two of my friends and co-workers, Lee Molefi and Rofhiwa Maneta, about their first time watching a BPL football game. Lee is an avid Chelsea fan while Rofhiwa is, like all their fans, an Arsenal fanatic.
“Dankie Menchestaaa!!!!!” he exclaimed with a sense of irrevocable pride. His fist hung in the air in a triumphant thump. I didn’t understand it. Yet. My uncle had his back toward me in our small lounge, and over the flickering beam on his shoulder came loud chants and the boom of an excited commentator’s voice. Something was happening. Menchesta? Manchester. It was the deep shade of Manchester United red I found on our small 52cm TV screen as soon as I got around his large frame.
On a plane of strikingly green land I found a scurry of players running from one end of the screen to the other; and in that mix was another set – each clad in blue – seemingly unable to withstand the force of the men in red. It was the very first time I’d watched a Manchester United vs. Chelsea match. It’s 2005. We’re in the heart of Diepkloof, Soweto and here stands a man, enthralled by the events surrounding twenty-two men on a large patch of green land in a land far, far away – six thousand miles to be exact. I didn’t understand it. Yet….
Ten years later, I’m at a bar in the heart of Johannesburg. Again, it’s a Manchester United vs. Chelsea match. There’s no uncle. Not a 52cm TV screen in sight, but the mood I experienced in my lounge in 2005 remains. A sense of sharp tension deeply wedged against the desperate hope that each kick of the ball will result in a loud exclamation of pride and pleasure. In the raising of a fist. It does. For the men in blue, however. Unlike my uncle, I’m a Chelsea fan. I get it now. It’s the BPL.
I caught onto the Barclays Premier League pretty late. In 2010 to be exact. The buzz from hosting the World Cup in South Africa had permanently attached itself to me. It wasn’t a tough decision; after living most of my life as a nominal soccer fan, I decided I was going to take this seriously. And which league would be best suited to host my new-found obsession other than the Barclay’s Premier League? White Hart Lane, August 2010. Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham is hosting a newly, and expensively, assembled Manchester City for the season opener.
Joe Hart’s been chosen ahead of Shay Given for the season opener. The weather’s perfect, the mood electric and the air is pregnant with anticipation. How would the two pair in the season’s opening fixture? As it turns out, Joe Hart’s inclusion made all the difference. The match ended in a goalless stalemate, with the consensus among both managers that the English goalkeeper rescued a point for the “Citizens”. No one knew it at the time, but this was Man City’s first step into Premier League ascendency, clinching the title a mere season later.
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