This is the second report from Swarthmore College’s Micah Rose who, as we explained earlier, is hanging out in the Eastern Cape, holding soccer clinics and watching the World Cup in a rural Xhosa community. The solar powered TV is made possible by SolarWorld.
Yesterday I woke up just after sunrise and piled into an aging pickup truck. Mxolisi, a local teacher and part-time soccer coach, had agreed to bring me along with his teams of under-15 and under-18 boys to a tournament in the nearest town, Elliotdale, or “Xhora” in Xhosa. The tournament, according to Mxolisi, was organized by the Eastern Cape Ministry of Sport as part of a program designed to facilitate development in the region by tapping into World Cup fever. An NGO, Khanyisa Community Educare Development, also helped with organization of the tournament.
Despite the 50 km of unpaved and washed-out roads we had to negotiate, our caravan was the first team to arrive at the tournament location. This meant that it was our job to fix up the pitch. First, the metal goal frames were moved into appropriate positions. Next, one of the leading boys on the older team opened and quickly drank two cartons of milk. After finishing, he filled the empty cartons with lime from one of several 10 kg bags in the bed of Mxolisi’s truck. Using a rope pulled from beneath the driver’s seat, the boys began to line the pitch. Working in teams of four they stretched the rope across the invisible end line–two boys firmly securing each end and two boys sprinkling the white powder from the cartons along the line that formed between each end of the taut rope. The other boys sat and watched. Apparently, this was not unusual. Before long, what had been a vacant lot was transformed into a recognizable pitch. The matches could finally begin.
I refereed all six games that were played that day. The players ran and competed hard. They were immensely respectful, not questioning a single one of my calls even though I was merely filling in for an official who never showed up and had nothing more than a whistle to distinguish myself from a random guy on the street. Never did they accuse me of bias, despite the fact that I had travelled with the teams from the Bafazi School and had trained with them during the warm-ups.
A referee can gain interesting insight into the personalities and mentalities of players on the field. Yesterday I found a group of boys and girls who were respectful, competitive, and jubilant. When the teams exited the field after each match, they simply grinned broadly and flashed me a thumbs-up–the universal sign of appreciation and enthusiasm.
After all the matches were over, the teams sat on the pitch that they had constructed, ate boxed lunches, and chatted excitedly amongst themselves. I don’t know exactly what they said, or if the World Cup was even mentioned. Regardless, their provincial tournament and post-match meal embodies the very essence of the South African World Cup – it’s about the world’s game becoming truly global – even on a vacant lot in the only region of the host country where no one on the South African team was born.