When I was a youngster I was a HUGE fan of Garfield. Not the bootleg TV cartoon, but the original comic strips. I collected the anthology books religiously, and at one point I had the first twenty or thirty editions. Any true Garfield lover remembers how he felt about Mondays, basically protesting life every seven days by refusing to do virtually anything (except eat). Well, today has to be the toughest Monday ever—if not in world history, then at least in the history of South Africa. As the country struggles to adjust to life on the first day of the year 1 A.C. (After the Cup), I find myself just trying to stay busy. Maybe if I spend enough time writing this entry I won’t notice that there is no game on tonight…-->
But for all the gloom and doom, the last week of the World Cup was a great one for me. On Thursday I got an inside look at African Romance Diamonds in Sandton. African Romance is unique in that it is a completely vertically integrated company, operating its own South African mining, cutting, polishing, wholesaling, and retailing operations. I was invited to see the operation by Michael, who is the first cousin of Sonja, my earlier host in Johannesburg.
On Saturday morning I attended a coaches' clinic for the Witz F.C. Juniors staff. The session was run by coaches from Witwatersrand University and BIDVest Wits FC, dealing with everything ranging from the philosophy of the club to the fundamentals of running effective practices. The technical coaching aspects were concepts covered in different licensing courses that I’ve attended. But, it was helpful because when hearing certain themes, ideas or practices being repeated by different coaches on different continents, it reinforces their value. In contrast, it also helps to get a sense of what aspects of my training are more “American” or less universal. As a coach who has been launching a club back home (Burners F.C.), this was a great opportunity for me. Most importantly, it was helpful for me to observe the top-down approach of the folks that were trying to create consistency and quality on a club-wide level, across several teams and different age groups.
Like any good coaches training, the clinic included an on-field session. Being the youngest one there, I was often nominated to be the guinea pig. I didn’t mind during the small-sided scrimmage, but I was less excited when it came time to demonstrate FIFA’s recommended excersises to build core strength. I did OK, but I'm sure that Mara would recommend a solid Pilates regimen to get my act together.
That night Eli and I headed to Soweto to check out the much-maligned third place game. In my opinion, the consolation match separates the futbol fanáticos from the World Cup groupies. True soccer addicts—like Jelly and I—appreciate another 90 minutes of world-class play. Uruguay and Germany delivered, and we enjoyed an exciting match over grilled “Moja Chicken” at Roots Restaurant.
When I got home that night I sat down at the computer to check my email and enjoy a little music before bed. When my phone rang I almost didn’t answer the unrecognized number—but I did, THANK THE LAWDY LAWD! On the other end of the line was my new favorite person, Dr. Sue Cook from Royal Bafokeng, calling to invite me to Match 64 between Spain and Holland! Thank you Schyleen! Thank you Sue! Thank you Kgosi Leruo, for going so far out of your way to hook me up!
When I stepped off the bus the next evening in front of Soccer City I was nearly in tears, about 3 millimeters away from having a complete breakdown right in the parking lot. Yes, it’s that serious. It would have been an amazing experience on any continent, but the site of the newly rebuilt 90,000-plus capacity stadium was something ridiculous. My first thought was the alien craft from Independence Day, hovering over the world’s major cities. As far as global football is concerned, Soccer City is truly the Mother Ship. By the time I made it to the Royal Bafokeng Suite, I just had to take a seat, sip a Sprite, and try to relax myself. The pregame ceremony made the Super Bowl Half Time shenanigans look like a school talent show. Just before the teams took the field to warm up, Madiba made a surprise appearance, bringing everyone in the crowd to their feet in salute. I am convinced that he is the most loved human being on earth, and I felt lucky to be in a stadium full of people cheering him on for the second time in my life (see earlier post).
The game was ugly at times, thanks to the Dutch. But the better team—the one that actually played with some class—won, so I was happy. Now that the tournament is over my energy is focused on my responsibilities and projects here in the country. I have been working in the Office for Community Engagment at University of Johannesburg, so starting next week you’ll be hearing plenty more about that. Also, some of you were asking for some follow up on the Jelly connection, so stay tuned for that as well.