I was at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday to cover the Southern Kings’ 35-32 win over the Sharks. This is nothing new for me, as I have been covering the Port Elizabeth-based side for a year and a half. However, this time, I felt something unusual as the clock ticked down – a strange sense of emotional investment in the game.
I am not a Southern Kings fan by any means. I was brought up supporting the Stormers and I was a season ticket holder at Newlands for five years. Although I have never cared about them as deeply as I do Chelsea Football Club, I never thought I’d find myself actively willing on another South African rugby side in a derby that had little relevance to mine.
The only other time I can recall having that feeling was when I watched Ajax Cape Town play Manchester United at Cape Town Stadium. I had never felt any real sense of affinity towards Ajax until that day, but this was always going to be a special game. My school’s former first team coach, Alcardo van Graan – a lifelong Manchester United fan – was on the bench for the hosts.
I cheered Ajax on throughout the game and felt a sense of pride when he came on, but I was totally unprepared for what would happen within the following forty seconds.
Ajax whipped in a corner, which Alcardo got on the end of. With a spectacular backheel, he diverted it into the Manchester United net.
The crowd erupted, Alcardo ran to the fans to celebrate – and in that moment, a small piece of me fell in love with Ajax.
Honestly, I’m not sure it’s possible to truly love more than one sports team in a lifetime.
However, nobody – no matter how powerful their love for a team, is capable of numbing themselves to the beauty of an underdog once they’ve seen its story up close.
This is why I will always have soft spots for the Kings and Ajax – and why I truly hope my career in sports journalism introduces me to many other teams who grab pieces of my heart.