Ah Christmas! A time of endless joy. A period of too much food, too much booze and too much time with that uncle who won’t stop telling you that 9/11 was an inside job.
It truly is a magical time of the year with a cacophony of unique sensory delights; the smell of sun block, the sound of crashing waves, the taste of sugary ice-lollies that melt all over your sticky fingers, the touch of the warm seaside sun and the sight of cricket matches contested on the beach, in the back garden or on the telly.
What’s that? We’re in London? Oh, right.
Growing up in South Africa engendered a different brand of the festive period to what it is here — with the endless stream of tinsel and wintery wonderfulness. The random genetic lottery saw me born to parents on the southern tip of Africa which meant Christmas became synonymous with trips to the beach and hours spent at the Wanderers, Newlands and Kingsmead cricket stadiums.
Crisp, refreshing lagers replaced mulled wine in 35 degree heat, braai (barbeque) meat on an open fire replaced roast dinners and the sound of bat on ball replaced the crack of crackers. Football may be ubiquitous around this time here in the United Kingdom, but it’ll be a cold December day in Johannesburg before the beautiful game shunts the gentleman’s one from my psyche.
This love affair started in 1998 when I watched Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock rip through Brian Lara’s West Indies as the mighty Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose could do nothing against the torrent of runs that flowed from Jacques Kallis’s bat.
In 2004 I was forced to watch my beloved Proteas suffer the ignominy of defeat against the old colonial master as Michael Vaughan’s England triumphed on my own patch. In Johannesburg, on the grass embankment of the Bull Ring, I was crestfallen as I watched the South African born Andrew Strauss pile on 147 to set up a 77 run victory for his adopted nation. I made a promise I couldn’t keep that I’d never live in the UK.
I rediscovered my Christmas cheer four years later. With mates that were either hungover or still drunk from the night before, I tuned in with bloodshot eyes at ungodly hours to watch a young JP Duminy announced himself to the world with a definable knock of 165 in Melbourne against Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson to finally, finally, secure a Test series win in Australia.
In the intervening years there has been heartache, elation and mundane forgettable rubbers against poor touring sides. Much like Christmas itself, South Africa’s cricket fortunes have varied with every turn around the sun. What remained, however, was that warm feeling the sport provided, amplified by the warm African sun.
Things have changed. Football has now become the ubiquitous sport. Like the biting cold and constant drizzle and consumer capitalism I’m surrounded by it. But I’m not complaining. In fact I’m loving the change. No sport evokes passion amongst its fans quite like football and drifting amongst die-hards in one of the world’s capital cities has provided a chance to experience a unique winter sporting wonderland.
The part of my brain that is solely dedicate to cricket is not impressed. It doesn’t like the cold and it doesn’t like that cricket is only watchable on TV. But there is a larger part of my brain dedicated to the curiosities of all sports. That part of my brain is thrilled by the anthropological study of a football mad country during the most football mad time of year. Sure the Premier League is another making money empire and sure Christmas has been bastardised into a money racket but that does not take away any of the magic.
Bring on the mulled wine! Bring on the bulky jackets! Bring on the trees and gifts and reindeer and football! For this Christmas I’m definitely on the right side of the world.