KEVIN MCCALLUM: Bafana damn near overcame their Mission Impossible
They deserve the love they have got from the nation after so many years
At the same time as Ard Matthews was singing Impossible Machines at the Zioux restaurant in Sandton on Wednesday evening, a few anxious men sitting at a table behind him were watching the hopes of a nation fade on one such impossible machine.
Matthews called his second album Impossible Machines because he feels we have all become slaves to tech devices — cellphones, tablets, laptops and the like. But, needs must and the need was to watch Bafana take on Nigeria in the semifinal of Afcon. The iPhone 13 has a good-sized screen on it, but it scarce seemed wide enough on a night of furtive and, sorry Ard, rude, looks at the action from north of Johannesburg.
Matthews was singing and telling stories about his life and his sailing ship, also called The Impossible Machine, which just goes to show that you can use a good name for a variety of things. His appearance at Zioux was part of the “David & Friends” series of evenings with the talented friends of the talented Mr David Higgs, chef-patron of Zioux and other very fine establishments.
A quick tangent. The Impossible Machine was, according to the Cape to Rio site, formerly known as The Howard Davis, designed by Kurt Oehlman and built by Louw and Halvorson. It is a classic 66-foot wooden sailing vessel commissioned by the SA Navy in 1966, made of mahogany on iroko frames, with a 16-tonne lead keel and approximate 200m² sail area.
“Matthews explains that The Impossible Machine was launched at Quay 4 in the Victoria Basin and spent the next 25 years based at Granger Bay. During this time she was used for sail training and navigational exercises by SAMNA General Botha. In 1971 The Howard Davis competed in the inaugural Cape2Rio race under the command of Captain Phil Nankin, and subsequently completed several Atlantic Ocean crossings to South America.
“Twenty years later in 1991, due to restructuring in the budget as well as the training syllabus of the Academy, she was sold into the private sector. Then, early 2020, Matthews acquired her and spent the best part of the year restoring her to her former glory.”
In April 2022, Matthews had his skipper’s ticket commercially endorsed by the Sa Maritime Safety Authority and is currently in the final stages of upgrading to offshore yachtmaster.
And then Matthews decided to take part in the Cape to Rio, which ended prematurely when something called a “crash jibe” happened, which sounded dramatic but was not as dramatic as what was happening at the Stade de la Paix in Bouake, Ivory Coast. Not for us — for those anxious men were myself and David O’Sullivan.
Bafana looked to be out, Nigeria making it 2-0, which was transformed to 1-1 by the delayed magic of VAR for an SA penalty after a foul on Percy Tau. Bafana should have won the match. They had more chances than Jacob Zuma has had appeals. Five or six went begging as the nation begged. Bafana, finding their form when it mattered most, thundered forwards.
Khuliso Mudau missed a sitter with 96 minutes on the clock and in Zioux, two men winced and cursed quietly. Waiters came and went to our table, and score updates were given before shaky legs, hearts and minds found the penalty shootout a staggered run-up too far.
And yet a nation celebrated, which was a little strange if understandable. SA has come to expect little from Bafana these past years, their promise undone by a dysfunctional and suspect governing body, and at Safa House there are more bodies than any sense of governance.
For Bafana to prosper and move forward from this, as the always excellent Njabulo Ngidi wrote for News24, “the Premier Soccer League (PSL) and Safa would need to stop their petty politics and put SA football at the heart of their decisions, rather than pampering the egos of those in charge of running the game”.
Ngidi highlights the “tiffs” between Safa and the PSL, the lack of co-operation from the PSL and the pathetic incompetence of Safa when it came, for example, in not booking the High Performance Centre in Pretoria for the team in time.
That is perhaps why Bafana are getting a little more love than the Proteas when they lost to Australia in the semifinal at the World Cup in India last year. Perhaps South Africans know that Bafana have been on a Mission Impossible for a spell. On Wednesday we watched an impossible mission almost made possible on an Impossible Machine. It felt like a start and not an end.
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