It’s humid but pleasantly warm in Durban, the heat a welcome embrace in the wake of Cape Town’s night time chill. The stands of the beautifully designed and architecturally exquisite Moses Mabhida Stadium are empty beyond the eclectic collection prepping for tomorrow’s clash between Germany and Australia. Some volunteers are busy labeling seat numbers, others doing their best to look menacing in security capacities, a task betrayed by their kind smiles and readiness to pound it out when I’ve walked by. Elsewhere, FIFA personnel are swarming about configuring their cameras and all that jazz, while some Australian media are in tow to snap a couple photos and hope for something mildly interesting to transpire and give their match day preview stories something beyond the generic and recycled.
I am here because I stumbled upon what can only be the residue of divine favor. In the early hours of a May, New York morning, I received a phone call from a cousin I hadn’t had much interaction with in recent years. Now, these random confluences of circumstance do pop up from time, inevitable when you have over fifty first cousins. Indeed, my mother’s family, where she is one of eleven children, embodies the stereotypical ethos of an era in Ireland well before the crass modernity and narcissism of the Celtic Tiger, an era when the Catholic Church reigned with ultimate authority, Priests didn’t touch little children (or at least didn’t get caught), and birth control was a heathen’s luxury. Anyway, without drifting too far into historical polemics and the reasons why England could be blamed for all Ireland’s woes up until this recent economic disaster (maybe that too), I have a very big family. Furthermore, this over-achieving family of impoverished, agrarian heritage has begotten a generation of children spread across the economic landscape, one of whom has ascended to become a big man in turf studies and preparation. It was this cousin who phoned me, inquiring if I would like to come out to South Africa on his company’s dime to lend a hand in testing out the pitches, provide fodder for humor because of my Americanness (yes, most Europeans do still seem to think we’re all stupid and Bushian and gun-toting and God fearing and ‘lacking in subtlety’), and help out in an assortment of ways as young people without any established craft or skill-set are known to do. Nepotism is pretty cool when it’s in your favor, I must say.
As is such, this job has provided incredible access to the country of South Africa as well as World Cup operations and politicking from an angle that may or may not be somewhat interesting depending of course on the reader. If the social and racial dynamics of this vibrantly evolving nation is not your bag of tea, well, shit, good thing there are 10,000 media people covering the event who can probably provide something more to your liking. If the size of Thierry Henry’s ass (sorta big, he looked a little out of shape but he’s a big dude in general up close), the inner fat kid that Yohan Gourcuff’s style of running reveals when within shouting distance, or the unanimous distaste of the boisterous Cape Town crowd for French Manager Raymond Domenech also bores, you needn’t waste any more time with me. That being said, because of this j-o-b, I have been afforded a somewhat clandestine vantage point through which to observe the comings and goings and inner-workings of the Cup and all its surroundings (including a standing sideline position at a number of matches). Self-involved and self-important as is the fundamental and underlying nature of my generation, I figure I should write about this and share my perspective, wonderful observations and the other elements of egoism that come along with it. At least I am also self-aware.
With that as my introduction, I’ll jot down a few points purely from the football side of things before later getting on into the remarkable and pulsing energy of Soweto, the destitution/communal pride dichotomy of the Tembisa township, the breathtaking fortress style gentrification of South African society, the fear and fear-mongering of many visitors and the white establishment, respectively, and the different thoughts I have collected from a number of people on where this country is going and where it has been.