PRETORIA, South Africa — A few hours before the gut-roiling USA victory here, I witnessed a tense moment of another sort when two well-lubricated American yahoos tore into Sunil Gulati, the head of the U.S. Soccer Federation. Here's how it unfolded ...
Sometime after noon, I made my way to Hombaze, the pre-game boozing site for hardcore Stars and Stripes fans. And boozing they were. Waiters were bringing around six packs of Castle beer. The lads were downing lager as fast as they could lay hands on a bottle. Everyone was sauced and ebullient. Then Sunil Gulati turned up.
Let's consider for a moment what it says about the head of a nation's soccer federation that he's willing to ford his way into a heaving mob of drunken ultras. It says good things. It smacks of mensch-iness. Gulati — accompanied by MLS chief Don Garber — marched straight into the Hombaze parking lot, which by then had been commandeered by an overflow crowd. They greeted the fans, shook hands, talked shop. Most were delighted to meet them and asked for photos. One handed Gulati a red, white, and blue vuvuzela.
It was then, from the balcony of the bar, that an evil howling commenced. Even over the patriotic commotion you could hear it, an expression of pure animal rage that ran through the crowd like a dirty shank.
FUCK YOU, GULATI!
I craned my head to locate the source of the disturbance. There it was, damn near foaming at the mouth, a massive hydra-like beast berserking at the railing of the balcony. There were two of them, actually. Two bodies layered in lagerfat. One voice united in hatred.
The creature thundered profanities at Gulati. Disguised in Team USA apparel, it had concealed itself perfectly in the crowd, perhaps in anticipation of this very assault. But now it had lurched up and was spitting acid. A circle opened up around the brute as it flailed in fury, its meatrolls flinging grease.
FUCK YOU, GULATI!
(Their complaints about Gulati, I would later learn, were manifold, and their origins were difficult to discern. They had something to do with the USSF and banners being prohibited in stadiums and ticket sales and Mexicans sitting in their section and not having "a seat at the table.")
A South African journalist with me took one look at the horror and fled for a nearby pancake house. (An hour later, she was still shaken up at the thought of the monster loose on the streets, devouring the weak.) Gulati lasted only a few minutes longer. The shrieking grew louder and louder. There was no security here and soon it would be impossible to contain the demon. With the right trajectory, the obesity might even be able to hurl itself from the balcony and lash out Gulati's brains. The U.S. Soccer Federation president twisted his face into a painful grimace. It was time to go. And off he went.
What became of the beast, I do not know. But I caught a glimpse of something enormous and primal bellowing in the stands after the Donovan goal. From a distance, I could not make out if it was covered in blood or merely an American flag.
* * *
We may be the plucky underdogs of the soccer world; we may be a global superpower in decline. But don't for a minute doubt our ability to make public asses of ourselves. I offer up another choice example:
While walking to the stadium in Pretoria, I snapped a photo of this woman.
See the man behind her and to her right? The guy almost obscured by the flag? Well, as soon as I took the photo, he approached me and made some dumb "I hate the media" crack about how the woman would soon be on Facebook with a Hitler mustache. Well, I thought that idea was pretty swell. And I told him so.
At which point, he sneered and gave me this mocked-up piece of South African currency:
That bug-eyed-alien-looking thing on the right is supposed to be Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa.
"You know why he's got a shower on his head?" the man continued. "Because he had sex with a chick with AIDS and then washed it off with a shower. That's what they believe."
"The South Africans."
There it is again. They they they. The way he said it, this sad wet fart of a man might as well have called them "niggers" (or the k-word, as it's known here). He claimed to have lived in South Africa for a year, but I'd bet 200,000,000 phony rand that he hasn't talked to a single black South African beyond asking for his check at a restaurant. As if to prove my theory, Wet Fart stomped off muttering something nasty about Obama. Can't we ban these people from coming to the World Cup, too?
Anyhow, as a reward to you, pal, we are going to add a Hitler ‘stache to the photo, just not to your ladyfriend:
An occasional look at the spirited gentleman fans and other exotic fauna of the World Cup. Today: U.S. supporter T-Mo, out of Chicago.
The U.S. is 5-0-2 since T-Mo began wearing his suit. It has never been washed, unless you count the Axe he sprays on it.
In which our correspondent does the Thomas Friedman thing and gleans profound insights into South African culture based on the stray remarks of a cab driver. Today: a cabbie driving me downtown to watch Bafana Bafana's final game.
These guys, the police. They try to fine me for the [seat]belt — 300 rand. I just pay him off — 20 bucks. They are corrupt. If you're driving a Golf or a BMW they stop you every time. People who are committing crimes they use a Golf or a BMW, the old 325 model. The Golf can go fast. But this one you cannot pass a roadblock. It is easy to steal, too.
Luke O'Brien is a writer in Washington, D.C. He's written for Details, Washington Post Magazine, Boston Magazine, SI.com, and other publications. He'll be filing dispatches from South Africa throughout the World Cup.