Mlungus must step up to Bafana plate
DEAN Furman was excellent for Bafana against Angola. But one of the tiresome fruits of his efforts will be that many uninformed white folks will cite this as evidence that Bafana need more white faces.
Some silly tweets were emitted by some milky-hued South Africans on Wednesday evening, expressing sarcastic amazement at the sight of an mlungu footballer in a national shirt. There is a widespread assumption that there is a prejudice in the local game that keeps out white players — one which is easily countered by asking which white players of sufficient quality are currently being ignored.
To my mind, the only three international-class campaigners are Furman, Davide Somma (who has been capped and missed the Afcon cut due to fitness concerns) and Andrew Surman, who has turned Bafana down in the hope of an England call- up.
Dillon Sheppard is a fine player but reaching the end of his career, while Bradley Grobler could cut the mustard in due course.
The truth is that most white players are either not stepping up to the plate, or lack the ability to do so. The same goes for most coloured players, who are also often touted as the crucial missing element in the current squad.
Needless to say, Steven Pienaar is the finest footballer we have. He retired last year from Bafana to concentrate on his Everton’s chase for the Champions League, which was a valid and rational career decision. (The only people in a position to condemn him for it are those citizens who have rejected millions of pounds in order to serve their country, or those who can honestly say they would. The rest of us should give the self- righteousness a rest.)
But the wave of brilliant coloured footballers that included Benni McCarthy, Quinton Fortune, Shaun Bartlett and Mark Williams has come and gone. Ditto the current crop of white footballers, few of whom compare to great mlungus of yore such as Neil Tovey, Eric Tinkler, Mark Fish, Grant Young, Shane McGregor, Noel Cousins or Gordon Igesund.
The scorn in which football is held by the rich schools that most white kids attend is one reason for this paucity of talent. If they spend anything at all on football, it’s a fraction of the money they spend on rugby and cricket. Racist attitudes by some white parents are also undeniably a factor; some families don’t want their kids (who may not share their bigotry) to participate in a majority black sport.
This is not to deny that is there’s also a measure of prejudice against white South African players at the grassroots of the local game. Many black South African fans do prejudge them as lacking skill, sometimes wrongly, just as so many local white sports fans’ perceptions of black rugby and cricket players are distorted by racial bias.
But most top football clubs — both in the PSL and abroad — don’t give a hoot about your complexion: if you’re good enough, they want you.
A lot of promising white youngsters are shipped off in their teens to US college leagues or to their ancestral homelands of Portugal, Greece or the UK. But those laaities are not popping up at the highest level in Europe. It’s a tough world out there.
Ask Furman, who joined Chelsea’s youth side on his arrival in England. It’s been a rocky road since then: he moved onto Rangers and Bradford City before becoming a stalwart at Oldham. But on the evidence of his militant activities in Durbs, he’s good enough to work above the English third tier.
Of course it’s good to see a white player doing well for Bafana. It induces a flashback to the fuzzy rainbow sensations of ’96 — a nostalgia worth indulging during these jaded, racially fractious days. Here’s hoping it inspires young white prospects to step up and claim their place in the local game — and not sit on the sidelines or emigrate.
It’s also welcome news that Furman also happens to be Jewish, like a certain Joel Theodore Stransky. Might be a good omen.