I inadvertently got caught up in the Sharks victory parade on Wednesday. It was like being on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on the 25th of August, 1944, as French and American troops swept through the Arc de Triomphe.
The liberation of Paris was nothing compared to this. As the bus carrying our conquering heroes drew level, I was so overcome with emotion that I grabbed the nearest woman and kissed her passionately. She pulled away and screamed. I screamed. Up on the bus, the players screamed. The car guards screamed. It was a time for kissing and a time for screaming. You would have been a fool not to do both.
However, I have a confession to make. I am not a huge fan of the sport. Some of you will think I am either a communist or gay. Or even a gay communist, although I imagine this is a fairly small demographic confined to a single neighbourhood in the more tastefully decorated part of Moscow.
The thing is, I wasn’t raised in a rugby house. Back then, the kind of people who played or watched rugby weren’t the kind of people my parents wanted me mixing with. I imagine that’s why my mother sent me for piano lessons. I don’t know what kind of men play the piano or watch other men play, but I sure as hell didn’t want to mix with them either. The lessons ended in tears and I was left wondering if my parents hadn’t perhaps mistaken me for another child.
I watched the Currie Cup final simply because I happened to be in a bar when the game came on. I suppose I should have been tipped off that something was up when the young man behind the bar lashed a rubber shark fin to his head. People do strange things north of the Umgeni and I had no reason to think this wasn’t just another Saturday afternoon on the east coast with a barman tripping gently off his painted face.
I knew trouble was brewing the moment I heard the national anthem. People around me began standing up and singing, not that you could call it singing. You can’t really call it an anthem, either. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika is the only thing left in our pantheon of national symbols still pretending that all is well in this fabulous rainbow nation. It has tried so hard to be all things to all people that if it were a contortionist it would need the Jaws of Life if it hoped to ever walk again.
I never stood up and joined in the singing because once you start with that, you may as well go out and sew the seeds of civil strife on the sidewalks of your suburb. Besides, I didn’t know the words. Nor did I feel confident enough to stand up. Also, I am a journalist, and we don’t stand up for anything but press freedom and an open bar.
This wasn’t my first time watching rugby. Nobody can spend as much time in bars as I do and not see a game of rugby. I have, however, never watched the sport in a stadium environment. I once went to watch a game of cricket at Kingsmead and the unutterable boredom drove me to drink relentlessly beneath a particularly cruel February sun. The day ended badly.
I like to watch rugby primarily for the violence. Many of the players on both sides remind me of people from my past. Hugh Reece-Edwards was in my class at school. Or somewhere in the vicinity of my class. We were on nodding terms until he discovered that I played tennis instead of rugby. But that is not the past I am talking about.
There are rugbyists like Hugh and Patrick Lambie who have English-speaking faces. I am not being faceist, but you have to admit that few people would look at Gurthro Steenkamp and wonder if his parents hailed from Stratford-upon-Avon.
Let me just say that while Lambie was living high on the hog at Michaelhouse, Reece-Edwards and I were being starved and beaten at Northlands Boys High.
The point I am trying to make, if there even is one, is that most rugby players remind me of bad times. I am not talking about Beast Mtawarira, here. Even though I grew up in a suburb where black men could be arrested or shot if they were caught on the streets after dark, the sight of Beast launching himself into yet another of his suicidal battering ram runs doesn’t make me wonder if my plasma TV is on its way to KwaMashu in the back of a taxi.
Most rugby players remind me of the corporals and sergeants who made my life a living hell in the army. They were supposed to teach me to hate communists and terrorists, but they were such utter bastards that I ended up hating them instead.
So when I see a fullback or a prop who looks and talks like the military policemen who routinely arrested me on the highway between Pretoria and Durban, I want him to be taken down and soundly stamped upon.
If there is one thing we all need in this country, it is catharsis. We should take it where we can find it.