June 2006 – I was in grade nine, highly annoyed to be spending a Friday afternoon studying for my mid-year exams. In fact I spent most of my weekends during high school studying, but I was just frustrated on this particular weekend, June 15, the second week into the Fifa World Cup.
A lot had to do with the fact that I was just going through one of my teenage moods that day. I was upset that my peers probably weren’t studying, and normally I would dismiss that but I felt it was really unfair and that the universe sucks because you know- teenager. Plus I was disappointed that despite my best efforts, I didn’t feel better after eating an ice-cream. (That Smarties one in a cone which they don’t make anymore. Why did they discontinue it?)
It’s not that I would rather be spending my team watching soccer. I was not a big fan of soccer- still not. But I watched the major tournaments because my dad watched them. More accurately, the games were on in the background while I studied. They were not distracting- I was not interested in them, remember.
Until, one evening after youth group, I came home to find my dad watching a match between Italy and a team I forget. Italy went on to win the world cup that year. But that evening I sat and watched with my dad. He explained the game. He always explains the game.
But I paid attention this time because my dad was describing the strategy the Italians were using. And I could see it unfolding before my very eyes, and as cheesy as this sounds, it was beautiful.
We ended up having a conversation about the teams my dad was rooting for. He liked the Brazillians, because they play with rhythm. I have seen it, they do. He lauded the Germans too, who were hosting the tournament and ultimately finished third. Naturally, as the patriotic South Africans we are, we had a laugh about Bafana Bafana.
When one of my uncles or my male cousins came over, we would rag on each other about whose team just got knocked out from the tournament. It felt nice to finally be part of their conversations and “get” them.
Eventually the games became a break from the studies. I would reward myself with a game every time I met my targets for the subject I was studying.
One Saturday, my dad was working in the yard. He would come in to get updates of the score, which I had kept tabs on. I would add details about how the players scored the goals, if there was a disagreement with the referee, who was diving into the lawn too much, whatever squabbles there may have been with the players. Like a blow-by-blow on the cool parts my dad was missing.
I watched the final with my dad, a Sunday night after church – I remember because I had a debate with my friends about who would win. Phrases like “France sucks,” and “Italy iYa sucka.”
There are two distinct things I remember from that game. The French supporter in the stadium, holding a chicken. And Zidane head-butting that Italian player. My dad and I gasped in disbelief at the head-butt and we both asked each other if there was really a chicken in the stadium. (Rewind wasn’t available back then so everything we saw remained in question until there was a replay, or whenever the camera panned past the guy with the chicken again.)
That world cup laid the ground work for the 2009 confederations cup and 2010 world cup. I watched two games at the stadium near my home town during the 2009 confederations cup. I watched one with friends, between New Zealand and Spain, the Spaniards floored the All Whites. I watched the other match with my family, it was the losers final between South Africa and Spain, which coincidentally fell on my 18th birthday.
By the time 2010 came around, schools and varsities closed for that entire month. I made an effort to watch nearly every game, once we listened to the game between South Africa and Uruguay on the radio because we were traveling.
On my grandmother’s 80th birthday, we caught the highlights of the game between Spain and Switzerland and used unmentionable words after finding out Spain lost 0-1. Argentinians who were probably in the country for the games, gave my grandmother a replica of Tevez’ soccer jersey, it made us feel better but that’s probably not why they gave it to her.
It’s not that I had grown to love the game in four years, it was just that I was watching it with my dad. Like it was a chance to bond with him and do something he likes. (It’s also why I keep track of Formula 1, some rugby games and dare I say – Noot vir Noot.)
He used a phrase to describe a game which was really good. He called it “kook water”. I roughly translated it and curiously asked him what he meant by saying the game is hot water? He explained that the game was on fire. I have since adopted that phrase to describe anything that warranted enthusiastic praise. I have described movies, music, even Parliament as being “kook water”.
Fast forward to 2014, I was still a student and caught a few games at home. My dad had grown older so we would start off watching the first match in the early evening, but my dad wouldn’t finish the second match with me. He was too tired but he told me that it was too cold to continue sitting in front of the television.
I would finish the game, and before going to bed I would update him on the score, which player made it and the exact minute, how effortless it was, who cried, whether the referee was unfair, if the game was a bust (rarely) and what the commentators said.
When the 2017 confederations cup came by, I only realised within its second week that the tournament was underway. I caught up with the points and I managed to watch one semi-final between Mexico and Germany.
Again, not because I love the game, or was rooting for any of the teams. I watched it because I thought perhaps my dad, 160km away was probably watching it too. So if we were both watching it in real time, we’d somehow be connected even though we weren’t in the same room. (Yes I’m trying to work in some universal physics to justify my reasoning.)
When Germany scored two goals in the first 10 minutes I texted my dad to find out if he saw it too.
He wasn’t watching- but we fell into our old habit again, where I updated him of the goings-on, Mexican player Fabian’s fiery goal and the final score where Germany beat Mexico 4-1.
As I type this, the final between Chile and Germany is on in the background. I am simultaneously chatting with my dad. Checking if he saw how close that goal by the Chileans was and commenting on the counter-attack by Germany.
My dad informs me that he’s been watching a movie with my mother. He switches to the soccer. My brother joins the group chat and asks for the score. “The Chileans are good… but they are the weaker team,” my dad says. I tell him that I hope they don’t give the game away.
He says that the best teams are playing the final. What he really means is: This game is kook water.