More than just a game

By Kate Douglas and Duncan Fleming

It is always an experience to watch your favourite sports team lose at the Rat. Firstly, you will probably end up buying a round of tequilas for your friends who support the opposing team and secondly, you will probably have to put up with the drunken guy at the next table who thinks that by his team winning he has somehow earned the right to remove his shirt and reveal his hairy nipples to the world while loudly expressing his thoughts about the other team. Yes, we all know that guy and we have all contemplated throwing a beer bottle at them. And occasionally somebody does.

Ever since the dawn of mankind when one gentleman hath pitted his strength against another, there has always been a certain someone, lurking in the shadows, forever watching. After all, what would be the point of being better than someone else if there wasn’t some hairless skinhead in the crowd tossing spark plugs?

Kylie*, 2nd year BA, says that her boyfriend got kicked out of the Rat & Parrot last year when he threw a beer glass at somebody’s back. “He was so furious because some other student was swearing and insulting the members of the rugby team he was supporting.”

One of the things which makes sport what it is, is the presence of the spectator. Whether we watch because we love the game or secretly enjoy watching one man tackle another in rugby shorts, is not the point. The question is not why we choose to watch sports but rather why we choose to take a side. We can mostly argue that we support our regional team, but this is not always the case.
 
The general stereotype of a sports fan – or fanatic, as the term originated (but try saying that many syllables after a few trips to the bar) varies from sport to sport, country to country, team to team and, most importantly, individual to individual. However, the keyword which should best be used is ‘loud’.

There is no spectator culture which embodies this ideal more so than the Italian initiated Ultras, a football movement which includes in its core beliefs that during a match no spectator should ever stop singing. Assumedly it might matter exactly what they choose to sing but if the odd passerby happens to start up a chorus of “Singing in the Rain” the majority probably won’t mind. If it makes noise, it’s allowed. It is a curious characteristic of the Ultras that they generally mill about in the cheaper seats on offer in a stadium, but by Ultra etiquette they aren’t allowed to sit during a game, and why pay for an expensive seat if you aren’t going to use it. They wave banners and generally have a good time

The Ultras have a friendly rivalry with the Hooligan Firms, which originate in Britain. While many Ultras almost certainly do have redeeming qualities, it has been made quite clear that a football hooligan isn’t at the game to watch the game, but rather to harass the opposing team’s supporters. This can be done with pretty much anything, but the weapon of choice is usually the Millwall Brick.

The name may be misleading, but that’s only until you’ve been hit by one. This rather genius contraption was invented in the 1960’s after police at football matches started impounding any instrument they deemed too dangerous to bash someone’s head in with.

The Brick is not in fact a brick at all, but a cleverly rolled up newspaper, folded in half. When swung with enough force at any person deemed suitable for such an action, expect them to experience some serious discomfort. Extra weight (and therefore damage) can be added by innocently dipping the Brick into a nearby beer, preferably belonging to someone else.

A parallel could be drawn between this last mentioned item and our own beloved Vuvuzela; a device which has been instrumental in creating the soccer culture we experience today, it is said. Legend has it the abovementioned shaft of plastic got its name from the Zulu word for “making noise”. Given its awkward shape and size, storage of a Vuvuzela can be a problem, though it has been decided upon in rougher company that there is at least one place they can be ideally shoved.

However, if you are weaponless you can always do what Pieter Van Zyl did. For those who watched the 2002 rugby game between New Zealand and South Africa that was played in Durban, you will remember how one of our proud South Africans ran onto the field with his huge stomach hanging out, and tackled the referee. Not only is he banned from entering a rugby stadium again, but I think we can all agree that he embarrassed South Africa almost as much as the Jacob Zuma rape trial.

A major factor of being a spectator is the teamwork involved, in certain cases required even more so in the pub than on the actual playing field. While one man cannot achieve anything sitting alone in a corner, stamping out a rhythm with his hands, a large group of men all doing it roughly in time with one another can apparently break a table, according to Melanie of the Rat & Parrot. Split-second decisions must also be made outside of the game, as upon realizing the critical situation at hand the table-breakers cut their losses, downed their beers, and proceeded to stamp feet instead.

As to why people gather in such large quantities to witness a game, second year Bradley Marais says it’s because “watching and playing sport is an escape, its something you do to make mates”. Precisely how involved you get may be approximately relative to how inebriated you may or may not be.

Let us examine this with regard to Tri-varsity. Without ignoring the importance of the alcohol empowered streakers who run across the sport’s field making their mother proud, Tri-varsity is usually a time where the majority of Rhodes students actually attend a sports game. Although the majority of them will have no idea as to what the actual score is, you can not underestimate their loyalty to their team. A member of an opposing side would have to be suicidal to scream, “Rhodes sucks” while on Rhodes soil. And lest we forget the famous cry uttered at last year’s Rhodes/NMMU 1st Rugby game… “Number six is a…” 

With the 2010 Soccer World Cup approaching it is debatable whether we will be able to keep the Pieter Van Zyls off the field, let alone prevent English and German fans from killing each other in a bar. So whether you watch a sports game because you like the athletic bodies or just feel like some playful banter with friends, one should never underestimate the power of team loyalty and booze.
*names have been changed

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