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The top English fan, revisited

Business Maverick

Africa, Business Maverick, Media, Sport

The top English fan, revisited

Remember Mark Perryman? If not, we’ll remind you: he’s the guy we interviewed in May, before he was internationally famous. Turns out he was right: England fans are behaving and he is having a whale of a time.

Since Mark Perryman, convenor of the London England Fans supporters’ group, appeared in a profile The Daily Maverick ran in May, he’s become a go-to voice for World Cup reporters from media outlets as wide-ranging as South Africa’s Citizen and The Times, and the UK’s Guardian and BBC. He’s been quoted saying a mooted ban of the Cross of St George at a council estate in Manchester is tantamount to “suppressing multiculturalism,” that his group of 50 England supporters are “fans of FIFA, not football,” and that citizens of the UK’s Celtic nations who support Anyone But England (ABE) “should all get over it”.

The leading quote he gave The Daily Maverick – which is admittedly why we were interested in him in the first place – was this: “If you want to have a good time in Johannesburg, you don’t smash up the bars on the first night.”

Perryman, author of Ingerland: Travels With A Football Nation and a part-time sports lecturer at Brighton University, told us the England Fans supporters group (with a total membership of 25,000) had over the last decade succeeded in “marginalising the [English] troublemakers”. He also said: “I can tell you, with absolute assurance, that there will be no trouble at the World Cup involving England fans.”

On that score, a week into the World Cup, Perryman’s been proven right. (Would be wonderful, then, if he offered his services to the Argentinians). But has he followed through on his promise to see the country beyond the fan parks and the malls?

Seems he’s done that too. The group arrived in South Africa last Wednesday, and the standard out-of-the-ordinary stuff (an oxymoron, granted) has been accomplished – Lion Parks, learning to dance the Diski, etc. “Then we did what everyone warned us not to do,” he told The Daily Maverick on Thursday. “We walked through Soweto to a local soccer pitch. We were wearing our colours and were welcomed by everyone. We were fine.”

Notwithstanding Soweto’s newfound status as the great “safe” find of the World Cup, the game between the supporters group and the local side was drawn one-one. Then the crew got on a coach and headed to Rustenburg, where they witnessed the “Hand of Clod,” being the outstanding British tabloid moniker for the hapless England goalkeeper Robert Green.

“Obviously we were looking for a win, not a defeat,” said Perryman. “We got something in between. The USA was as scary as we feared. There was an instance of abysmal goalkeeping from Green, otherwise he had a good game. You have to remember that in ’66 we opened with a nil-nil draw” (right, let us not forget ’66) “so it means nothing to win the opening game four-nil. Friday is a must-win for us, but Bafana also have a must-win.”

On the way from Rustenburg to Cape Town the group stopped in at a series of B&Bs, lending their previously promised support to small South African business – who were disenchanted with how the World Cup’s turned out economically, but grateful for the winter support nonetheless.

In Cape Town, before going on a tour to Robben Island, they watched Bafana Bafana get outgunned by Uruguay. “We were all disappointed,” said Perryman. “Three games now need to go your way for you not to be the first host country in history not to proceed beyond the first round. That’s a huge ask. You can see the depth of the sadness. There are some legitimate concerns about expenditure, but you want the hosts to go through. England is really rooting for South Africa. But, you know, you can’t fix the results.”

Andrew Jennings might disagree on that last point, but we couldn’t go there because Perryman seemed to be taking frantic questions from some sort of “aide” while talking to us from the Waterfront – the price of international media stardom, no doubt. 

Still, the last quote from Perryman had that unique English quality of being slightly patronising and fulsomely gratifying at the same time: “The bad press South Africa has had to endure for the last six months or more has been entirely reversed.”

By Kevin Bloom

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