South Africa was once a country that was racially segregated, a country where the color of one’s skin either limited dreams or promoted superiority.
Now that same country will welcome people from all over the world and host the world’s largest sporting event in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, beginning tomorrow.
Des Moines Menace assistant coach Neathan Gibson and midfielder Lebogang Moloto are from South Africa. Each says that the excitement for the World Cup has reached indescribable levels.
Gibson said the people really appreciate hosting the event because in the past South Africa was not even allowed to compete.
“Many years back sanctions prevented athletes from international competition,” he said, referring to the days of apartheid government. “So there is plenty of excitement because of that.”
Both said that they have friends who have been directly affected by the World Cup. Moloto said he knows people who have obtained jobs, such as building stadiums. Gibson said some of his friends have bought tickets to every South Africa game.
“The crowds are going to be monstrous,” Gibson said. “It’s a brilliant time for the country.”
Gibson, a former Menace and Major League Soccer player, said that South Africa brings a unique culture to the game. One thing that he misses from his home country is the “braai” before soccer games. Gibson said that braai is just like American barbecues. Fans will braai before games, much like Americans tailgate.
“The smoke in the air from braai is something I’m going to miss,” Gibson said.
Moloto said that one thing South African soccer fans bring to the game is the “vuvuzela.” A vuvuzela is a large horn that makes tremendous noise. Fans will blow the horn the entire game, filling the stadium with noise. Moloto said that each region of the world has its own cheering style for soccer, such as fans singing team songs in Europe. The vuvuzela separates South African fans from the rest of the world.
“A lot of people complained during the Confederations Cup (summer of 2009 in South Africa) because of the noise,” Moloto said. “Fans play the horn and are standing, screaming the whole game.”
Moloto and Gibson, whose hometowns are among the nine cities hosting World Cup matches, played different levels of soccer in South Africa.
Moloto, who is from Polokwane, a city about 200 miles northeast of Johannesburg, once played for the U17 national team and participated in a tournament against nine other African countries. He was named player of the tournament.
After leading Lindsey Wilson College (Ky.) to the 2009 NAIA national title, Moloto has also been an integral piece to the Menace’s success this season. The 17-year-old nicknamed "Tsunami" scored the game-winning goals in back-to-back games against Kansas City on May 19 and St. Louis on May 22. For his efforts, he was named to the Premier Development League’s Team of the Week.
Gibson is from a city on the east coast called Durban. When he was 16, he played for a team called Pinetown FC. He said the competition was similar to that of the PDL. Gibson said that the style of play in South Africa is very different to the style in the U.S.
“The discipline in the game is totally different,” he said. “It’s more technical in South Africa where in the U.S. it’s more tactical. In South Africa they play more for the crowd.”
Gibson and Moloto have high expectations for South Africa in the World Cup. Gibson said that the host country generally advances past the group stage, and he believes that the team has enough talent to move on. Moloto agreed, and said that the home field advantage for a host team in the World Cup cannot be matched.
“I’m hoping they do (well) because playing at home is such an advantage,” Moloto said. “The opportunity is there to get wins. The whole country is behind them.”
Gibson also said that South Africa brings a different culture to the World Cup, one that has not been experienced in a long time. He said that the country is very unique and that the tourist activities along the coastlines are fantastic. He also said that the shoreline is extremely beautiful and the wildlife is something that cannot be found anywhere else.
“Capetown is a scenic area, and so is Lion’s Head, Table Mountain and the Garden Route along the east coast,” Gibson said. “Those attractions say a lot about the culture. We also have some of the best golf courses in the world.”
Gibson has one worry about the World Cup, and that is what will happen to the country after the event is over. The Cup has created an abundance of jobs, but he wonders what will happen to all of the stadiums that have been built.
“There have been jobs created, but the day after the Cup ends, what will happen?” Gibson said. “I wonder how the stadiums are going to stay afloat.”
Gibson has not been back to South Africa since 1998, but said he is happy that Moloto shares a similar background and appreciates his presence on the team.
“It’s good to have ‘Lebo’ here,” Gibson said. “He’s a good kid. He is representing South Africa well.”
Menace intern Matt Moran, a junior at Drake University, wrote this story
ABOUT THE MENACE: Iowa's Premier Soccer Team since 1994, the Menace is proud to to provide fans with a high level of the game, with talent from across the globe. Players from more than 30 countries have played for the Menace through the years. The 2010 Menace roster includes players from seven of the 32 countries in the 2010 FIFA World Cup: Brazil, England, Ghana, Japan, Nigeria, South Africa and the United States.
Experience the World's Game by cheering on the Menace at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines!
The Menace is the 2009 Organization of the Year for the 68-team Premier Development League, the highest amateur level of the United Soccer Leagues.