Home Opinion and Features Are there any real South African fans out there?

Are there any real South African fans out there?


GREY MUTTER: An authentic sports fan is someone who can enjoy and appreciate a try-saving tackle, a brilliant goal, a six from a potential toe-crusher hit out of the blockhole, and a mercurial overtaking manoeuvre on a race track … no matter which team or which sportsman pulls it off; even if it’s the “wrong” or opposing team, writes Lance Fredericks.

Fans during a match between Stellenbosch FC and Kaizer Chiefs at Athlone Stadium. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane, African News Agency (ANA)

WHEN last have you seen a sports fan? I mean seriously, think about it; when was the last time that you have met, seen or spoken to someone who really enjoys sport?

I am sure there are a few out there in this wide, wide world. But to find them – I am certain – will be a pretty stiff challenge.

Of course a sports fan must not be confused with a team fan. Team fans are a dime-a-dozen; they are everywhere. There are teams who have loyal, dedicated and even fanatical supporters. There are even ‘anti-supporters’ – people who dislike a specific team so much that they will cheer for whoever plays against them.

In South Africa, I am estimating, there are quite a number of team fans. There must be dozens, even hundreds.

To those who are wondering … the answer is “YES, I am trying to be controversial.”

Those who watched the news last week, or those who were actually at OR Tambo airport when the victorious Springbok team returned from France, will dismiss my ignorance saying that there were thousands of people at OR Tambo. Oh, and what about the ‘gazillions’ of people who lined the streets during the trophy tour?

So what am I talking about?

Simply this … Inasmuch as I do not doubt the passion, devotion and pride of the jersey-wearing, flag-waving, cheering fans lining the streets of Pretoria, Johannesburg, Soweto, Cape Town, Durban and East London – and here is where I risk offending thousands of readers – I cannot help wondering if most of that cheering throng were Springbok fans or merely victory fans?

Everyone loves a winning team – research even shows the benefits of supporting a winning team.

One benefit is improved social connection where individuals get to share a sense of community with other fans, creating opportunities for social interaction and bonding even amongst strangers. I mean, walk around almost anywhere in the world for the next couple of months wearing your Springbok jersey, and you will receive a few nods of acknowledgement for what ‘you guys’ have achieved.

Also, supporting a team can contribute to feelings of happiness and excitement, especially during successful seasons or games. Ask any Bok fan. Supporting your team can also help to serve as a distraction from everyday stresses and provide an outlet to blow off some steam. And these days, I don’t know if you have noticed, people are full of steam!

Oh, one more thing … for those who saw the viral video clip shared on social media of the husband coaching Manie Libbok on how to take his kick at poles, and how the ‘couch coach’ was jumping from sofa to floor to ecstasy as the ball sailed through the uprights, there is no denying that there are even benefits of physical activity in being a team- or victory fan.

A victory- or team fan, brimming with adrenalin, will often blindly support his team during a match – a high-tackle from his team will be called ‘low enough’, a handball will be ‘unintentional’, a forward pass will be ‘marginal’ – in other words their team, as long as they’re winning, are saints.

But a sports fan is someone different; cut from a different cloth entirely and not very popular with team- or victory fans.

You see, an authentic sports fan is someone who can enjoy and appreciate a try-saving tackle, a brilliant goal, a six from a potential toe-crusher hit out of the blockhole, and a mercurial overtaking manoeuvre on a race track … no matter which team or which sportsman pulls it off; even if it’s the ‘wrong’ or opposing team.

A sports fan is someone who is able to, without a second thought, wear a Liverpool jersey one day, and a Manchester United top the next, with their Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs kit for the two days of the weekend.

Put another way – someone who will wear a Springbok top one day, an All Black jersey another, and so that you have something blue in your wardrobe, a French top to fill out the set. Already I can sense the team fans squirming.

You will be labelled a pariah and be shunned by society! “Where is your loyalty,” team- and victory fans would ask!

I actually witnessed this first hand a few months ago. There I was waiting for someone, standing next to a rack filled with Springbok paraphernalia – beanies, scarves, jerseys, caps and T-shirts, and I made the almost fatal mistake of passing time actually looking at the merchandise.

Just then, from behind me a trembling voice cautioned: “I hope you are not one of them! Tell me you are not a Springbok. Your father and brother would die from disappointment.

“We wear the black! Not that nonsense,” he added, as he walked away dabbing the tears with his black scarf.

By thumbing through merchandise, I had actually broken someone’s heart.

For the record, I choose my kit for comfort, durability and washability; I could care less what team’s logo is on a top, and the labels ‘turncoat’ or ‘traitor’ don’t bother me, as long as the top can go into the washing machine.

So, by the way, why did I say that there are more ‘victory fans’ than ‘team fans’ in South Africa? You see, last Sunday, when India massacred the Proteas at Eden Gardens, social media was buzzing. The ‘chokers’ tag resurfaced and the so-called ‘fans’ had a field day with suggestions of how to apply the Heimlich manoeuvre.

Even I got caught up in the frenzy and commented on someone’s post before I stopped and thought about how quickly I got caught up in the senseless hysteria.

Being a cricket fan and not a Proteas fan, I tried to imagine the impact that the trolling could have on young men, thousands of miles away from home, trying to represent their country. How would they feel about my nasty (though funny) comment?

Meanwhile, back here in Mzansi, Kaizer Chiefs played a fixture in an empty stadium on Wednesday evening; why? Because the ‘victory fans’ got weary of not winning and on three occasions pelted the embattled coach with missiles from the stands – someone’s son, husband and father. Just because the team had not appeased the ‘victory fans’.

Anyway, with all this in mind, these days I am even cringing as I see election posters starting to appear on lamp posts around our cities.

South Africans are so loyal to a group, a club, a team that we run the risk of being so blindly devoted to a brand that we can no longer tell right from wrong. Will voters this election cycle turn out to be victory- or team fans, simply focused on seeing their party – that they have always supported with blind loyalty – win and get the biggest slice of the pie?

Or are there any actual South African fans out there?

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