A Game Apartby Neal Collins
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The story so far
I was approached in September 2009 by a literary agent who asked, given my background (see my profile link) if I had any great ideas for a World Cup book, given the greatest football tournament on earth will take place in Africa for the first time next year, kicking off in Johannesburg on June 11, 2010.
I had just got in from a glorious night at Wembley Stadium , where I saw England thump Croatia 5-1 with my three sons and 93,000 like-minded people to qualify for the finals, which will stir the sports world and, hopefully, the real world too.
I considered a few factual ideas but then decided a fictional account of how South Africa as a sporting nation has developed since the dark days of Apartheid when I lived there in the 1980s, taking the reader through to the dawn of democracy in 1993 and the big kick-off at Soccer City next year.
I developed a structure for the book while on a flight to South Africa to watch cricket’s Champions Trophy (via Tripoli of all places) in October 2009 and tried desperately to come up with a suitable title for a book so with such far-reaching erm… goals.
A GAME APART is based largely on what I witnessed myself as a student, footballer and very junior sports journalist from 1979 to 1985. I only major incident I did not witness is the Trojan Horse incident - but a similar atrocity is well documented as having taken place in Athlone, near Cape Town in 1985.
Since leaving the country – as a conscientious objector, I received a hand-written call up to attend National Service for June 1985 despite my British citizenship - I have made numerous return visits to South Africa to cover the Lions rugby tour (1997), the cricket World Cup (2003) as well as a three-month England cricket tour (1999/2000). My father still lives there and we visit, as a family, at least once a year, travelling widely and without fear other than when we come across big cats and rogue elephants in the game parks.
These frequent trips have, I hope, given me a special insight into a fascinating nation, so unique in Africa… and the world, when you consider how quickly it has changed.
In all my years resident there from 1970 to 1985, and on over two dozen subsequent visits, I never been mugged or car-jacked, or even rudely spoken to by a black man, though my university days were marked by constant conflict with the police, which reflects itself in what you find below.
The events detailed in the book are largely factual, but condensed... names and places have been altered, some may feel they recognise themselves in certain of the characters, but in truth the characters are a compilation of the people I have met, the life I experienced. I judge nobody who lived in South Africa at that time, where so many were forced into certain roles by the incredible pressures of a violent, divisive society.
A lot of the publicity surrounding the upcoming World Cup has been negative, with the focus on crime and corruption in South Africa since democracy arrived in 1993. My perception is very different to that... I believe the country has changed massively for the better in 16 short years. I’ve waited all that time to let my memories loose, and the World Cup seems an appropriate time to produce a novel which will help people to remember exactly what the Rainbow Nation has been through in the last 20 years. My memories, my distortions in terms of time and emphasis, will annoy some, please others. All I ask is that the reader recognizes this is how a young Englishman might have viewed the South Africa I grew up in. A strange but beautiful country riven by cruelty and mistrust and headed for a bloody revolution… until the release of a certain Nelson Mandela in 1990. That South Africa is now in a position to bid for a major sports event, let alone host an operation of this scale, is little short of a miracle given what I lived through there. And that really is the point. For those who visit the country, for those who view it on a television screen, for those who read about it in the newspapers, I hope to offer some perspective. Apartheid, like the Holocaust, should never be forgotten, swept under the carpet. Otherwise somebody will simply repeat the process. And that must never be allowed to happen.
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