Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Rugby Will Be Televised

The Rugby World Cup did not start very auspiciously for us.

My son and I tried to catch the local train to Party Central. The first one was full but we were told the next one was a mere five minutes behind it. It was, but it too was packed. So we went home and watched the opening ceremony on TV.

Then we rushed to a hill overlooking the city to watch the fireworks. The owner of the closest house had put a speaker out on his car roof so that we could all hear the commentary. There was a rather charming, old fashioned community feeling about the whole thing. My daughter was in her pyjamas.

When the commentator said the fireworks were an “orgy of colour” everyone burst out laughing. Kiwis, as a South African-born work coach told us, can hear the grass growing. Then we rushed home to watch the opening match, which was a crashing bore.

The next day I had to work in the city and thought I’d better take the train, since town would be jammed. I went an hour early, just in case, but the train was dead on time. "Town" was relatively quiet.

The government had stepped in and used its special powers to go over Auckland supercity mayor Len Brown’s bald head to ensure there wouldn’t be a transport problem again. If this were South Africa they would be accused of being unilateral racists, since they’re mostly white and he’s half Maori. Town was relatively quiet. So was Party Central. The long white cloud looked more like a mutant caterpillar.

Two weeks later my wife and I decided to take the train to town on our way to the big match between N’Zealand and France. If you had a match ticket you got free bus and train rides.

The train was punctual and the announcement matched what was happening. Auckland was bending over backwards to be efficient, and it was working

There was a good vibe on the train. The French fans were relaxed, but then they would be. We took the Fan Trail, which is a good 4.5km walk through the city.

Every restaurant, caf√© and bar had a giant screen showing the match between England and someone else. The fine art and architectural faculties had installations in a park. They had drama students interacting with those installations in a way that Drama 101 students always seem required to do. They writhed.

People were sitting out in their front yards, having barbeques (bahbies, or braais) and drinks, exchanging pleasantries with the passers-by. Most houses were draped in flags, mostly of mixed loyalties. First the homeland, then the new land, New Zealand.

Quite a few French fans wore blue, white and red cocks on their heads. Others dressed up like musketeers or Vikings. They sang. They joked and flirted with the neon stewards, who were all over the place. They were incredibly friendly for people who were being paid nothing.

It was cold but a bunch of Frenchman wore grass skirts, skimpy bras, wigs and nothing else. They were carrying a banner that said Tahiti. Most of the All Blacks supporters wore black. Kiwis do this most of the time anyway.

Always one for the big occasion, I had a stomach bug. I drank water and Coke and couldn’t touch the tasty-looking sandwiches my wife had made, nor the dry wors (sausage) I had bought.

The feeling inside the newly refurbished Eden Park was amazing. The French were singing lustily and we had a seat behind one of the trylines. The seats were very narrow. My wife perved Dan Carter warming up on the field through the binoculars and I perved a French girl in the next row.

I offered the two Kiwis sitting next to us a stick of dry wors each. They politely said they’d share one. They ate it. A bit later they offered me the only beer we were allowed to drink, Heineken, which I had to decline.

“This [sausage] goes well with the beer,” the one said. “That's why it’s our national diet,” I replied.

The game was about to begin. After the anthems there was an electronic countdown on the big screen and the ref blew his whistle. The French attacked well for a while, but their backs ran at half speed. Unsurprisingly, they were smeared.

The first All Blacks try was scored right under our noses. After each score there was an electronic trumpet signal. “Ole!” everyone shouted. But then a lot of black cars with their multi-national flags look like bulls that have been pierced by banderillas.

During boring patches there were Mexican waves. This happened twice. After each referral to the video ref, electronic drums would beat dramatically, as if this were a Roman arena, care of Hollywood, awaiting Caesar’s thumbs up or down.

“All hail king Richard,” a wag said behind us, referring to Richie McCaw, also known as God, playing his 100th test match. The joker sounded like a local drunk.

Soon the French were trailing and every time their fans chanted “allez bleu” he responded, “nineteen-nil”. I looked around and saw a young, red-haired yuppie with his partner. He was probably a very quiet person in the week. Amazing how a bit of beer and crowd anonymity can bring out the joker in one.

Sitting directly behind my right ear was an older woman who clearly knew the rules of the game and kept on coming up with such quiet gems as: “Kill him. Kill him.”

The rest of the match happened so far away that I guiltily watched it on the big screen, trying not to think how much I’d spent on being at this game. Then it was over. We got out easily, passing rows upon rows of buses there to ferry fans wherever. We stepped on to the train and it pulled away. In town we did the same thing, all the while being guided by almost over-friendly officials. It was a relief to be home but I had to do this all over the next day.

It was raining cats and dogs, but my daughter and I caught the train anyway. It was packed with Samoan and Fiji fans. This was going to be the great inter-island war, I had reasoned. My daughter didn’t stop talking and giggling, but then fathers will forgive much, much more than that.

The train stopped at a distant outside platform, which meant we had to walk for about 15 minutes to catch the next train to Eden Park. But the supercity had laid on buses to take us that short distance. We decided to walk and I started thinking there was no way the city was going to make a profit like this.

The train took us to Eden Park and a Fijian brass band was plying Macarena on the street. The men wore sandals, white skirts, stiff blue military tops and white caps. They had a certain swagger to them that got heaps of applause. The rain kept on coming down.

We’d be sitting on the highest stand, held up by a complex of aluminum pipes. We had lunch under the stand, spoke to some South Africans. Amazing how little we had in common. I sat next to a Brazilian who only wore a short-sleeved shirt. He rumbled his feet and slapped his arms for the rest of the game to stay warm. Five young Fijian fans slid past us ten minutes into the game. They ranged from white to Indian to black. One of them had a deeply moronic laugh.

They would scarcely be sitting down before they’d leave again to buy a Heineken or snort a line in the toilets. Sitting this high up we could see better than sitting so low the night before. Pity the game was so boring. There were endless handling mistakes, so there were endless Mexican waves. Every time they approached us people rumbled their feet and I thought about the aluminum pipes.

The sun finally came out, the Brazilian thanked God, my daughter looked happy to have been there and we took a bus and then train back to our station.

Tonight my son and I are going to surprise our two Samoan relatives and take them to the Springboks-Samoa match. My family will be able to say we all attended the Rugby World Cup 2011 tournament.

After that I’m going to watch sport on the people’s medium: Maori TV.

Since most of its viewers are indigent they're showing all the games, free. I’ll be able to stretch my legs, drink the beer of my choice, save a lot of money, mute the commercials, laugh at my son's send-up of local accents and at least see the tries - in countless replays. 

Neil Sonnekus


  1. Dis great dat julle kon 'n paar games gaan kyk! Ek is bly om te kan se dat hier in SA is die mense nie te negatief oor ons span wat verloor het nie! Darem was dit nie 'n loesing nie! Ek vind ek geniet dit ook om na die mense om my te kyk en die vibe te ervaar meer as wat die actual game die fokus is. Dis baie entertaining hoe jy die mense om julle ervaar en beskryf! E