Manqoba Nxumalo
Manqoba Nxumalo

The loyalty we have to soccer teams is the same as we have to the ANC

In the past few days I have been asking myself why I get peeved each time I discuss the performance of my dearest club with my fellow Manchester United supporters. Oftentimes I find myself wondering why everyone does not see that David Moyes is technically inept, a minnow and completely out of sync as manager of the club. Those who claim to be hardened Manchester United fans never stop reminding me that when Ferguson took over in 1986 he was one game away from being booted out but patience saw him become the greatest English club manager in history. Of course this is a false assertion meant to assuage all of us frustrated with Moyes’s clear lack of vision and technical ineptitude.

I always remind the blind Manchester United fans that Ferguson took a middle table club and made it a champion team. What is Moyes doing? Taking a champion club and making it a mid-table team. Yes, it is too early to judge him but his few games in charge have shown all the hallmarks of a team taking over the position that Liverpool has been occupying in the last 15 years.

In refusing the argument about giving Moyes time I always posit that the stakes are now different to what they were 27 years ago, the game has become more competitive and demanding. A Liverpool friend of mine cautioned that I must show my loyalty to the team and not criticise it as I often do on Twitter. He says when supporting teams, loyalty is important. Now therein lies the rub.

I am clearly frustrated with Moyes. I do not like him because I think he is a shrimp for a club as huge as Manchester United, he is making my favourite team a mini-Everton, he makes disparaging comments and most of all did not buy players during the transfer window, only to bitch about the lack of depth in the squad a few months later.

With all these frustrations, why am I not leaving Manchester United to support perhaps Arsenal? What keeps me enchanted with the team despite my sheer unhappiness? I have been asking myself these questions because I could easily support another club and only come back once the team is doing better. But I don’t. I figured out it’s this thing called loyalty. Yes I can be frustrated with my team’s abject performance but save for a few rants on Twitter, I never contemplate leaving it. I’d rather be a silent supporter and pretend I don’t care than announce my divorce with the club.

Which leads me to the next question. Are the feelings I have for Manchester United what most unhappy ANC members have for the ruling party? Does this explain why people will complain and criticise the ANC in private, and of late in public, but still vote for it next year? Is loyalty the single reason why we find ourselves stuck in situations where we are clearly unhappy but are afraid of letting go, because of the fear of an uncertain future?

I argue that if you are a football fan and frustrated with your team yet cannot leave it then you understand why people will still vote for the ANC despite the e-tolls, Guptagate, Nkandla and so forth. The ANC’s allure is even more powerful than a mere attachment to a soccer team because at least they can point, in material terms, to how they have transformed South Africa. If people cannot stop supporting teams that they have no material connection to save for emotional abuse – yes, the relationship we have with soccer teams is abusive – then understand that no amount of “e-tolls proudly brought to you by ANC” or any of the disparaging comments on Twitter can make people change their vote, at least for now.

You see, the relationship people have with the ANC is a complicated one. It’s based on a romantic past, emotional abuse, occasional pampering with sweets but in the main disappointment with unfulfilled promises. That is why people like Mathews Phosa will criticise the same party he once led about its tolerance for corruption yet still champion it as the best thing since sliced bread for South Africa. Why? Because loyalty binds him to the ANC and nostalgia for the heroic struggle keeps him in captive.

That is why the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema is wrong to think he will have people follow him on the basis of likening the ANC to apartheid.

For any political party that wants to contest the ANC they must acknowledge the party for its role in the past and the many great things it has done for South Africa and then say that despite this, for the present challenges, a new party must take over. Well, something along those lines. All manner of pontifical and disparaging hooey will not make people change their loyalty to the ruling party, at least in the present, because we all suffer from the same sickness that Mamelodi Sundowns, Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs fans have. This sickness is hard to cure. Just ask the Liverpool supporters.

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