I’ve never been outside Europe before, you know. Never. I’ve always wanted to though. There’s certain countries that I’ve always been wary of visiting, like Australia, purely because it seems like it’s designed specifically to eat, poison, or just generally kill humans, what with all the sharks, spiders, snakes, stingrays etc, but I’d still go. I want to explore these places. I want to see them all. The thought does cross my mind though, as I sit quietly like a brave boy and receive my jabs for Diphtheria, Cholera, Hepititis A and B, Rabies, Tetanus and Typhoid, that I may be jumping right into the deep end here.
My flight from Katowice takes 15 hours, with a quick 90 minute stop in Frankfurt, before eventually touching down in Cape Town. From there, I catch a train to the small and relatively quiet suburb of Lansdowne. My new home.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m so drastically unenlightened to life outside of my European bubble, but I’d sort of expected Africa to be a 24/7 safari. I’d heard that Cape Town was inhabited by Otters, Seals, Wildebeest, Mongooses, Porcupines, Aardvarks, Leopards and Baboons, so to find my new digs on a quiet suburban street with no herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the main road is a huge disappointment.
I’ve rented a 5th floor apartment in quite a small block of flats, set back slightly from the road behind a mesh security fence. It’s a fairly nice building, with a sign next to the door that reads “Geen Rook Nie”. I assume that this is the name of the building. It sounds pretty exotic.
After a few minutes, I’m joined outside the security gate by a man that I recognise to be my new landlord, Stevie. He’s a tall, heavily built bloke with bronze skin and a friendly look about him. His hair’s braided into cornrows and he’s wearing the 2019/2020 Santos FC Home shirt, which was only released yesterday. Trotting alongside Stevie is a dog; Some kind of collie cross by the looks of it, although my dog breed knowledge has never been fantastic. She’s panting excitedly at Stevie’s heel as she watches me.
“There’s your keys, bra”, he says, with probably too much enthusiasm for such a mundane event. He hands me a trio of keys on a ring: One for the gate, another for the Geen Rook Nie building and a third for my flat.
“Cheers”, I mutter. “Want me to sign that?” I gesture to the Santos shirt.
Stevie grins. “Let’s see how you fare first, bru, eh?”
“Probably fair enough” I grin. “What’s you dog’s name?” I glance down at the Collie-ish dog, who is still watching me with interest, her tongue lolling out as she pants.
“She’s called Chappie. Say hello Cha…” Stevie is cut off as Chappie lunges towards me, almost knocking me over. She jumps up and rests her front paws on my stomach, supporting herself with just her hind legs, and I give her a stroke and a scratch behind the ear. It’s only now that I appreciate just how big Chappie is; she’s almost as tall as me now that she’s stood up on her hind legs. After getting a good look at me, Chappie lowers herself back onto four feet and goes back to Stevie’s heel. I smile as I watch her, then I look back at Stevie.
“Nice dog”, I smile. He smiles and nods. “So you’re a Santos fan then?” I ask, pretty redundantly.
“Ya, nee, all my life, bru.” He replies proudly.
“Go on then, what have I let myself in for?” I ask, anxious to get a fan’s perspective on my new club.
Stevie thinks for a moment. “Santos is the people’s team, bru. We aren’t the oldest club in the world, but we’re proud, you know?” His face suddenly turns very serious. “If you want my honest opinion bra, the players we have aren’t great. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t great. We stayed up last year, but it could still be tough trying to keep us up.”
I furrow my brow. “So what would you do if you were me?”
“Ag man, unless you can buy a whole new team…” Stevie scratches his chin and sighs. “You’ve got to get more out of them”, he concludes unconvincingly. It’s not the helpful and insightful ‘voice of the fans’ that I’d been hoping for.
I thank Stevie, give Chappie another scratch behind the ear, and make my way through the gate, into the building and into my new flat. My cats, Meatloaf and Burnie, are already in there. For a moment, I question how that’s actually possible, but then I just accept it as the explanation is probably dull and not worth thinking about too much.
After initially dismissing Stevie’s words as unhelpful, I find myself going over them in my head that night. How do you get the best out of what you’ve got? How do you lift mediocre players to the point where they can challenge the best in the league?
I’ve got some ideas.
Mini-sode 22.214.171.124.5.5 >
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