As French author and philosopher Albert Camus once said: “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football”, I too owe everything I know about life, love and loyalty, pleasure and pain, pride and prejudice to having been a football fan. I know that even if I had not grown up in South Africa, I would still learnt to discriminate on the basis of colour; to see things in black and white.
Everything I know about inevitable turmoil that from time to time visits human life; and the powers and the possibilities of the human spirit (to borrow a phrase from jazzman Wynton Marsalis’ Premature Autopsies) that help overcome such times, I owe to having supported Orlando Pirates all my conscious life.
It is a painful relationship. Some go as far as to call it abusive.
Like an abused spouse, people like me spend each pre-season hoping that the new season will return that entity we fell in love with.
The club boss, like the unfaithful spouse, promises that things will be better this time around. We believe and more often than not, we get hurt again. Some — those who did not take their vows seriously — publicly flirt with mistresses. For the rest, it remains a “in good times and in bad times; for better or for worse” affair. We are determined to stick it out. We believe, like the Zulus say, that no elephant ever found its trunk too heavy.
Our Pirates are our cross and we shall carry it to the end, as we would have a spouse with whom we joined in a union that no man should put asunder.
That is why Nick Hornby, author of the novel Fever Pitch must have been speaking for millions of us who are in this love relationship when he said: “I fell in love with football as I would later fall in love with women: suddenly, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain it would bring”.
I know too well that the lessons about deities and their omnipotent powers to punish and to exalt would have been meaningless had I never been a football fan.
It may be blasphemous for some to hear me treat football as though it were religion. We fans understand the Judeo-Christian tradition of monotheism without ever having to attend one Sunday School or catechism class. True fans understand what it means to worship at only one altar — that of the team we support and no other, thus fulfilling one of the 10 commandments against worshipping false gods.
For us fans, especially adult ones, the game is the connection between our youthful aspiration and the certainty that in this forever-changing world of our adulthood, some things are and will remain the same.
That is why we talk about the traditional style of play and whether one player or the other is deserving of “our” jersey. When journalists collect statistics as to who scored the most goals in whatever season, fans relate the story of their lives and travels through the matches that remain firmly etched into our minds.
That is why to some of us, the public holiday that is December 16 is meant to celebrate the day our beloved Pirates won the African Champions Cup. Others are entitled to remember it for other reasons.
Like former Sunday Times editor Ken Owen once said about liberals, that he had supported them when they were rudderless, he was not going to ditch them now that they were confused. I too am not going to stop supporting Pirates now. If I could pay a hard-earned 50 cents (or 20 cents when a corrupt security official allowed us to go through a hole at Orlando stadium) to watch Pirates play in the turbulent 1980s, I know I can support them at all other times.
I dread the day my nine year old son will ask why exactly we support Pirates, because for as long as he has lived it has been clubs like Sundowns, SuperSport and Ajax that have been more enterprising. I hope when that time comes, I would have had the wisdom to give him an answer that will keep him in the path of right that he is already on.
It is getting difficult. Right now, six games without beating Kaizer Chiefs in a match that matters, it really hurts. The season just past was a year that love really hurt. I hope the new one will bring with it the promise of the innocent love of our youth. The pain has gone on too long and it is numbing our feelings.
Marketing guru and author Muzi Kuzwayo who writing in his book, There is a Tsotsi in the Boardroom puts its best when he says: “I know the pain of losing. I know the pain of buying a match ticket with your last cents, wearing your kit with pride, only to watch your team lose.
“Fans support for love. After a big loss players go to the change room, take off their kit and stand under a warm shower. Fans are left to face the coldness of defeat as they fold their flags in shame, while the shirts they wore with pride turn into badges of dishonour”.
While Kuzwayo’s dirge is about football in general and my lamentations are specifically about Pirates, I have a feeling we are talking about the same love.