I contributed a chapter to a new book, “South Africa and the Global Game: Football, Apartheid and Beyond” edited by football historians Peter Alegi and Chris Bolsmann. (It will also come out as an issue of the academic journal, “Soccer and Society”). Here’s an excerpt from my contribution: ‘ “It Wasn’t that I did not like South African Football”: Media, History, and Biography’, which could have been written by countless of my peers:
I grew up in Ottery, a medium sized Coloured Township about 30km outside central Cape Town. A mix of row houses and drab apartment blocks—Ottery was one of the many dormitory-like townships, built mostly during the 1970s, to which the Apartheid regime had forcefully removed the bulk of the city’s coloured and African working class populations.
My relationship with football … was largely shaped by that time.
Key to my relationship with football was of course South Africa’s mass media—whether its racially defined print media or its state-dominated television media. Though by the late 1980s, “alternative” newspapers like South, Grassroots and The Weekly Mail broadened the media landscape—and improved coverage of local football—for much of the 1980s, you got your football news from the racial editions (the main paper for whites and “Extra” editions for blacks) of the English and Afrikaans mainstream press. South African broadcasting was a state monopoly and though a private cable television service came into being in 1986 it did not broadcast any news, or any news about black sports.
My high school, Lotus Secondary, was built next to a large collection of working class, governed-owned apartment blocks. Much of what passed for club football in my neighborhood were played on the school’s fields.
When I was in my early teens, I used to sneak out of the house on Sunday afternoons to go watch these “Sunday league” matches. I always ensured that my father—a fervently religious former alcoholic who forbid any contact with non-believers, and this included footballers—would not catch me. After all, the devil might get you at the football pitch.
My father also associated football with gangsterism. In this, he was partly right.
A local gang, the Yuru Cats (read: Euro Cats), controlled the flatse, as the apartment blocks were known in colloquial Afrikaans. The Yuru Cats, led by a classmate of mine, were feuding with the Mongrels, another gang, who controlled another set of apartment blocks—known as “Chicago”—on the other side of a dirty canal and a large empty field bordering the school. At stake was control of the lucrative drug trade—mainly dagga (marijuana) and Mandrax. The Mongrels were the original “B13s”—a gang that originated in the by then already bulldozed tenements of District Six. Bobby Mongrel—the gang’s leader who had founded the gang—lived in Chicago.