White Soccer in Africa


During the game between Holland and Uruguay today, I found myself supporting the Orange at the start and then rooting for the Uruguayans by the end. Why? I love the sport, and Dutch football exemplifies its structures and psychology best: a team, with everyone able to function in all roles, ruled by a democratic consensus that is enforced by a tough cadre of leaders, usually four or five players that traditionally have included two defensemen. But also I support the Dutch because the team is the most ethnically diverse of all European football teams. But should I support this? Dutch mercantilism promoted exploitation of people around the globe in the name of spices or banking.

But then why root for Uruguay? It is a seedy, lonely country, based on my two months working there, but formed at the turn of the century by an interesting anti-religious intellectualism that has never been matched in the Americas; the word god was not allowed to be capitalized in the media, for example, and partly from this kind of practical humanism the country grew into a refined economic power whose cattle ranchers became the world’s 6th-biggest economy, as Uruguayans still brag on today. But the country destroyed its indigenous population, as mercilessly as any nationa in the Americas. The players on Uruguay’s national team are simply descendants from Spain, unlike the players on Mexico’s national team, for example, most of whom can identify with that country’s enormous indigenous populations. Mexico’s talismanic player is actually named Cuauhtémoc, after the Aztec ruler famous for standing up to the bizarre tortures administered by Spain’s conquistadors searching for gold. No name means more to a Mexican than Cuauhtémoc, but nobody on Uruguay’s team could possibly have such a name: Diego Forlan, Uruguay’s top player, is a blonde, blue-eyed hero who looks like he summers in Marbella among the bikinis and yachts, which is, actually, what he does. At least Forlan plays for Atletico Madrid, and not the fascist big brother from the same city, Real.

Which brings me to tomorrow’s game:

Like any European, I hate the German football team. There is not a nation in Europe that does not openly hope to beat the Germans, not just for the joy of sport but for the symbolism of defeating the continent’s social aggressor, for whom there is still bitter rage. Ask any person in the Netherlands if he or she understands or speaks German, and they’ll all say they do but would never admit it. For no country is the hatred of its neighbor more palpable than the feelings of the Dutch for the Germans. Betrayal, genocide, rank militarism; you can still be brought to tears in any number of Dutch towns once a year as they ring a bell and ask for silence to remember the brutality of Germany. When England won the World Cup in 1966, Winston Churchill remarked smugly, “Now we’ve beaten them at our game and also at theirs,” referring to football and war. In the hilarious joke about European character in heaven and hell, the Germans in the former are the engineers and in the latter they are the police. (The Swiss, I must digress, are the bankers in heaven and the lovers in hell!)

But the Germans are in an interesting situation. They have color in their team. And color in numbers, including an American (from Brazil), an African (from Ghana) and the best player in the world, a freaking Turk. The racism, jealousy and hatred of one people for another cannot be better expressed than the social standing of Turks in Germany. I won’t go on about it here, but refer you simply to Fassbinder’s mind-bending movie “Ali, Fear Eats the Soul,” about the interactions of the German whose chest swells with pride for the Fatherland and the immigrant who tries to eke out his existence among the Teutons. The Turk is swashbuckling his way out of Germany into the British football leagues with a performance that is sublime, and threatens to do for all immigrants in Germany what Zidane did for all immigrants in France. For years, intellectuals have begged Zidane to say something about the social status of Algerians in France, and he has adamantly refused. But in private, his tongue rasps the French character and spears the racism in Marseilles and in the press which have made growing up Arab in France such a prickly endeavour. Zidane in 1998 won the World Cup with a team that was mostly Arab or immigrant or African, and not lilywhite. Nothing has brought French skins closer together in the fraternal codes of constitution the French copied from the USA. Equality and brotherhood has only happened in France when a football is being kicked. So what does this mean for Germany?

Must I root for the Turk to slalom his way through Spain en route to a skewering of the Dutch?

I lived in Spain. From 10 years old to 16 years old, my formative years. And I kept going back until I was 23, and now I go back every year searching for something about myself that I do not realize is missing until I am there, among the cork trees and broken castles. Shouldn’t I root for Spain?

But what is Spain? And what is its national football team? If Spain loses to Germany, it will be because there is no such thing as a Spanish nation, and there will never be. No Catalan is Spanish. No Basque is Spanish. Galicia and Valencia mean more to its bloodholders than any alignment of political territories. And Spain is not the cradle of fascism, but it is its primary exporter and experimenter. Knowing anything at all about Spain and football means you must root for FC Barcelona and against Real Madrid, the team Francisco Franco loved with all his heart as he imprisoned and murdered artists and homosexuals and thinkers and poets and anyone who did not see his vision of a hierarchical Spain, where bloodlines determine intelligence and social standing and economic opportunity. There are players on the field tomorrow (or today) for Spain who would spit on the country’s flag in other more private circumstances, especially in Catalunya or Bilbao or Guernika. You cannot walk in the Basque province and not notice the names in Spanish blacked out, and the unlimited expanse of anti-Madrid graffiti. Catalunya has never been its own country, and is now the main economic force of Spain, providing more than 40% of the country’s economy, and if there will ever be another new country in Europe, it would be Catalonia, if the residents have their way.

Here are some interesting tidbits to consider as you root through these final stages of the world’s best sporting competition:

Dutch football great Johan Cruyff’s son is named Jordi, named for Catalunya, and the son actually played for the Catalonian national team several times. There are towns in Spain that are Dutch. 100% Netherlanders, congregated together for the sunshine and clean air that do not exist in Europe’s sweltering armpit, all in towns that quietly practice a new kind of social apartheid. But if you are sympathetic to Catalunya, how do you root for the region’s enemy, the united idea of Spain? But to root against Spain is to root for Germany or Holland. Germany has color on its pitch for the first time, and this is a profound thing for Germany. In “Schulz Gets the Blues,” the all-time biggest box-office winner in Germany’s cinematic history, an accordion player discovers zydeco on the radio and then plays it at his small town’s annual picnic to a stunned reaction, when a village elder stands up and shouts “Stop that nigger music!” That movie was cathartic for Germany, allowing for a public admission of racism and social stratification that will have every German you know in guilty tears if you talk about it with them for more than 10 minutes.

But Germany? How can I support German football? How can I root for the enemy?

Why not throw my allegiance to the Dutch?

Bercause here is football in Africa, and here is football in South Africa, and the saddest thing that ever happened to Africa is the colonial pillage (with plenty of African help, to be sure) of the past few centuries, and the saddest mark of all colonialism is apartheid, which in my generation is the darkest strike against humankind that I can imagine. The British in that European joke I mentioned before are identified in hell as the cooks, and in heaven as the police, in recognition of their generally well-intentioned efforts to be fair on international and regional issues. The British made apartheid. But it was Dutch farmers who lived it and turned it into evil. The Afrikaner is a Dutchman. The Afrikaner is everything Africa must put in its past.

And here are the Afrikaners, ready to take on Germany, where immigrants are relentlessly discriminated against, no matter what you think you see in Berlin, or ready to battle Spain, whose existence as any kind of team reminds that the Spaniard is willing to kill his own, as Franco did, to preserve a family’s good name, and who exported the Conquistador, whose rapaciousness and profit-seeking still keeps people with the wrong skin color on the wrong side of the bottom line.

And Holland’s fight against Spain or Germany will happen in South Africa in front of millions of people who cannot hear Dutch or think Dutch without being reminded of their own utter worthlessness.

We are what we play. We all play football. The enemy will always win, as long as somebody is keeping a score.