I began writing this when the sounds of joy, noise to some, had hardly fully abated. It was a memorable final, the best for a long time, as it pitted two teams of different styles against each other. The one, whilst peppered with international cast, was still essentially English: fight hard, defend, and attack when possible. The other, with the DNA of Barça, touch and feel, possession football – total passion for the people’s game.
I took inspiration from Simon Kuper’s comments (Financial Times) regarding some in Barça being there because of Catalan styled affirmative action. I think many of them are, and there is nothing to be ashamed of it. He tried to imply weakness, however, last night in the final against Manchester United, the home-grown goalkeeper Valdes, stopped all, whilst the Dutch goalkeeper, bought in the football market, let two in… but that’s history now. (and do not talk of reject Pique… he was brilliant).
To continue, the Barça coach Guardiola does not tire to mention that his team has small guys, Iniesta, Messi, Xavi, etc. and on occasion has reminded people that this is football not basketball, and it is played on the ground. I have witnessed the few times I have been at Camp Nou that they wet the pitch slightly before the game commences and during half time, to keep the ball gliding from player to player… to player.
We know about years’ social engineering that preferred one group over the majority of the people. In South Africa, we had policies consciously keeping Black people (African, coloured and those of Indian origin) in systematic disadvantage. It was puerile, wasteful, and degrading of human beings: both white and Black.
Whilst white people from all over Europe and who spoke different languages were regarded as ONE group, Black people were divided into tribes, and so called races. There was even football matches of Indians vs whites, with Blacks (then meant to refer to black Africans) playing coloureds or what not. If it was not for the tireless efforts of anti-apartheid sportspersons in football such as the anti-racist South African Soccer League (and the anti apartheid movement in sports and society) were would not have this “new” South Africa. An interesting article points out that the SASL had “demonstrated that racially integrated professional soccer was hugely popular. Avalon Athletic, Cape Ramblers, Pirates, and Swallows were among the most successful sides, while players such as Dharam Mohan, Conrad Stuurman, Scara Sono, and Difference Mbanya became township heroes.”
“That’s before the Apartheid government entered with big money, and other enticements, whilst repressing human rights activists in sports.
In education, the leader of the National Party, helped engineer as Minister of Native Affairs, the Bantu Education Act (Act No. 47 of 1953) which de-emphasised the learning of the sciences (maths and science) by black people. He is well-known for notorious comment before his whites only parliament the same year (1953); ‘What is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice’.
In Catalunya as with the rest of Spain, Franco’s iron hand, marginalized human rights: to life, peoples culture and language, etc. – and he favoured Real Madrid. In those times, Camp Nou became a temple of resistance and Catalanism. People could shout and scream in their mother tongue and if in the process the “old enemy” could be beaten on the field, so much the better. It gave hope for more strength off the pitch…
But the affirmative action that Barça employs is that it plays the game to suit the type of person it has. Hence seldom do you see high balls, etc., and not to say that Messi can’t head them in, when they do come occasionally.
With the 2010 world cup one year away we South Africans can take something home from the game. Barça played their style, it affirmed the small guys, who come from within their system, and play the game. They caress the ball to each other, keep possession, although the match last night they showed that they can play without it too. Most importantly, the boys that won -at least eight that were on the field- were home-grown, and maybe that’s why Platini smiled. He was a small gifted player once, and now president of UEFA and if he has his way, affirmative action will be policy. I concur; it will be good for the game.