After a 3 week break since the ’1nildown2oneup’ Summer Global Gooner Passion Tour stopped in Brazil, we are back and today we return to the Africa. We have been enthused by the enthusiasm and knowledge of Nigeria and Kenya, but today we are fortunate to be given an insight into the football and the Arsenal scene in South Africa. For this I am delighted to welcome a guest blogger, superb writer, top Gooner and friend to this site, Greg Piotis. Greg will be better know to some fo you as @BreakfastEgg on Twitter. If you don not follow him I firmly suggest you do as he is an extremely welcome and positive voice on my TL. Over to Greg….
I suppose the best way to introduce you to South Africa’s love for beautiful game would be to give you a short account of one of the most memorable experiences in my life – the 2010 FIFA World Cup, hosted proudly in our own backyard. I was fortunate enough to attend many of the games in the group stages, an exciting time for all South Africans. As locals, we obviously supported our home team, Bafana Bafana, but many of us adopted various other national teams. The decision to watch these teams was largely based on the English Premiership players that played for them. Personally, I sought after Spanish and Dutch games to watch Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie. Local fans attended World Cup games wearing English Premiership club kits, to support their favourite players. The English games were amongst the most popular, simply because fans knew they could see Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney.
The point is that our love of football easily extends to the English Premier League, widely regarded in South Africa as the greatest league in the world. We do have our own professional, domestic league called the Premier Soccer League (PSL), with a lion as its logo (almost as if it were modeled on the popular EPL). And although it is a very successful competition – in terms of corporate sponsorship, media support and audiences – every South African will proudly inform you of the club he or she supports in England.
This may well be due to the fact that we enjoy a broadcast of all 380 EPL matches during the season, with 180 of them live. We are also spoilt with live FA Cup games and Champions League football every season. As a result, the English Premiership has enjoyed outstanding viewership in South Africa. So much so, that in 2010, one of our local broadcasters, SuperSport, launched a 24-hour HD channel devoted entirely to the EPL. Live games, topical programmes, highlights, documentaries…you get my point.
We also enjoy all Arsenal games live in the English Premiership and in the Champions League, and sometimes we’ll get The Arsenal in one of the selected games with regard to the earlier stages of the FA and League Cups. So in any given season, I’ll get to watch 99% of our games live. In fact, as we speak, I’ve just watched us play Manchester City, live in Beijing. We’ll also get all of the Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and more recently, all of the Manchester City games, live.
Despite our fantastic weather (sorry to rub it in, those reading from the UK), we also have a decent pub culture. Most pubs will show these live games, and some of the pubs are associated with certain clubs. City fans have started congregating at the Keg and Crow, all of a sudden. I’m not sure where they came from. In saying that though, fans of different clubs may well watch games together at many of our pubs. Most will have a good laugh and watch the game with family and friends – its not like Green Street Hooligans or anything. Again, because our weather is absolutely phenomenal (even in winter), we’ll watch a lot of midweek games at the pub, when the sun has gone down.
In terms of fanbases, I would say that the original “big four” are generally the most supported. I would probably pick Manchester United and Liverpool as having the largest support bases here. You’ll walk around on the weekend to see most donning their favourite team kits. I have also seen more and more people wearing City’s lovely nappy blue in recent years. But that is not to say there is no club loyalty here – Liverpool shirts continue to sell at Total Sports, and we enjoy lovely highlight reels of the great Liverpool teams of the past.
With regard to Arsenal – unfortunately, I am not aware of any statistics pertaining to the level of support we have in South Africa. Personally, I do not belong to an official Arsenal supporter’s club. I’d probably put this down to a close group of friends that support different teams – I’d prefer a Saturday or Sunday barbeque (or braai) with my mates, and the banter that ensues when we watch our favourite clubs (and the resultant fines due to a poor week in the fantasy league).
In saying that, we are one of the more popular EPL clubs. Again, all of our games are broadcasted live, so there is a demand. I’ve also found that most neutrals prefer our style of play, and there is also a great respect for the way we conduct our business (not buying a trophy) and developing youngsters. Also, and this might be a silly point (still true though), but our local sporting goods stores do not stock official merchandise for the smaller English Premiership clubs, like Wigan. And Spurs. But I can still buy an Arsenal duvet cover.
From a personal point-of-view, I cannot remember when I first started supporting Arsenal Football Club. My father began supporting the club back in 1975. He tells me that he loved the name “The Gunners” and it all went downhill from there (for the both of us). I am 27-years-old now (still got the Arsenal duvet. And a girlfriend, by the way) and my earliest memories of The Arsenal are an absolutely sensational back-four in Adams, Bould, Dixon and Winterburn. As an exceptionally talented centre-back myself (but never scouted to greatness), I tried to emulate the commitment of these guys on the pitch. And then more so, as I grew up, Martin Keown became a firm favourite, especially in those intense fixtures against Manchester United (and more particularly his antics with Ruud Van Nistelrooy).
Apart from the fantastic four at the back, I would have to pick Dennis Bergkamp as the outright player I enjoyed watching most. Nothing gives me more pleasure than watching a player with incredible vision and technical ability, and this was Dennis Bergkamp. He epitomised class, in the way he conducted himself on and off the pitch, and therefore, he epitomised Arsenal. This might surprise a lot of you, but was also a big fan of Edu when he played for us. Sure, he started off slowly I admit, but he really shone in the 2003/4 season. I thoroughly enjoyed watching a player, in Edu, that kept possession and remained calm under pressure.
Much along those lines, I was especially excited when we signed Mikel Arteta. I thought he was fantastic at Everton, and he did not disappoint when he joined us. It pains me to say it, and I know we have moved forward, but I would have loved to have seen Arteta in the same team as Fabregas and Nasri. Mikel is exceptional. I am also a big fan of Bac Sagna in our current crop but then who isn’t?! Jack Wilshere is also right up there. I had the opportunity to watch him live for the first time on his debut at the Emirates Cup, in 2008 – my only visit to the Emirates Stadium. I would also love to see a fit Diaby. But we’ve been over this before.
Obviously the last few seasons have been difficult for us, as Arsenal fans. And I could easily get into what I think is wrong, or who I think we should buy, and all the rest of it. But I’ll leave that up to the excellent bloggers that we have out there, because that is not what this post is about. What I will tell you is that I believe in Arsene Wenger, and I will support every player that takes the field for our club. I admit I get frustrated sometimes, but in general I believe in our players and in our club. So let’s go win the league!
Thanks Greg, an uplifting insight into Goonerdom in Sou Africa and a positive end to a superb piece of writing. I am sure you will have won many new Twitter folowers from the Gooner Family today. Thanks so much.
Until next time thanks for reading.
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