The Great Underachievers
13 February 2013
They play in the so-called best league on the continent, their players earn incredible wages, they have a wide array of talented individuals at their disposal and have the high expectations of a nation on their shoulders, yet only disappointment follows.
Who am I talking about here? England? South Africa? Both? They share several similarities, don’t you think?
Listen, as an England fan, I’ve sat through more heart-breaking tournament defeats than any human needs to witness in a lifetime. Now, having spent time living in South Africa and working for Soccer- Laduma, it hurt me when Bafana lost against Mali recently, and the fact that they went out on penalties made it even worse.
I’m not ashamed to say that Bafana are proudly my second nation and I’ll back them to the hilt, but when I heard that final whistle go at the end of the 120 minutes, I had that sinking feeling again. That feeling I had in 1996, the same one that hit me two years later in France ’98, the same one that haunted me in 2004 and 2006 and that also got me just a few months ago in Euro 2012.
Obviously Bafana don’t have the same woeful penalty record that my England boys do. However, the more I think about it, the more I see how South Africa’s national team mirrors that of my own.
Look, the funding that gets pumped into the English game is bonkers, on a global scale. However, if you look at what the PSL gets compared to the rest of Africa, it’s probably the equivalent of what the Premier League gets in comparison to the majority of Europe.
Being English, I’ve sat through the ‘golden generation’ of footballers that flattered to deceive over and over again. In 2006 we had a team of players, most of whom were at their peak, who were perfectly set up to end 40 years of hurt for England fans. However, instead, we were found wanting once again, left to reminisce about that famous day at Wembley nearly half a century ago.
Despite being a football ‘powerhouse’ on the continent, the Three Lions have only one major trophy to their name. Remind you of anyone? Our players earn an absolute packet every month and perform wonders for their clubs week in and week out, yet stick them in their nation’s colours and they just can’t seem to do the business. Ring any bells?
I understand that the concept of a powerhouse in Europe and Africa differ greatly. Africa’s big boys, Ivory Coast, would still struggle against your Spains and Brazils, however, they are considered far superior to a team like Ethiopia.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m proud of Bafana and I’m proud of what Gordon Igesund has managed to do with a team that, a few months ago, wouldn’t even have made it out of the African Cup of Nations group stage. However, it should never have got to that, should it? Bafana shouldn’t be in a position where a quarterfinal exit is acceptable.
I know how it feels all too well. You go into a tournament with your heads held high, there’s a confidence about the team and you’re staying positive, then the first game comes around, a shoddy performance dents that confidence, and all of a sudden you’re left worrying.
Then there’s a resurgence, the boys show some heart, some battle, some passion and you think yes, they can do this, this could finally be our year. You make it through the group stage and there’s a renewed faith from the fans, the belief is back and everyone is hopeful. Then the quarters come along and the mood is great. That is until the game goes into extra time and that sinking feeling hits.
You go out of the tournament battling, having not lost in normal time, with a bit of pride, but nonetheless you’re out, and that’s it for another few years.
You’re not done though. Those real fans among us take that defeat, stuff it deep into the recesses of our brain and prepare to back our country once again from scratch when the time comes. Knowing full well chances are that you’ll get hurt all over again, that you’ll end up sulking in the corner of a bar with a stray tear running down your face, but keeping the faith for next time anyway.
In both England and South Africa at the moment, there is an extremely talented generation of players just waiting to prove what they’re worth, waiting to have that famous national emblem rested on their hearts and waiting to bring home that second trophy.
Maybe next time, boys, maybe next time…