Reviewer: Archie Henderson
Vuvuzela Dawn – 25 sports stories that shaped a new nation, by Luke Alfred and Ian Hawkey (Pan Macmillan)
Being a sportswriter is better than having a real job. Getting paid to go to Newlands, or Ellis Park, or King’s Park, or Loftus, or the Wanderers – or wherever it is that games are played – is one of life’s great pleasures. It is a privilege that comes to only a few.
On and off during the past 50 years or so it was my privilege. OK, we used to moan and complain as much as our colleagues who were not that privileged, but we always knew that we were, to risk a hoary old sports metaphor, on a good wicket.
Those of us who worked in the sports department (derisively referred to the toy department by the envious) had a lot of fun too. Opinions in sports stories were positively encouraged whereas our colleagues in the newsroom had to avoid them like the plague. Cliches, of course, came thick and fast.
Luke Alfred and Ian Hawkey are old campaigners in the sportswriting field. At one point they worked together at the Sunday Times where Alfred was the sports editor too. Hawkey migrated back to England where he became one of Britain’s leading football correspondents. Alfred has lately been aiming his sharp mind and pen at the murky dealings of Cricket South Africa (no, not much has improved since the demise of the dodgy Gerald Majola as CEO).
They have now collaborated on 25 Sports Stories that Shaped a New Nation. It was timed for 25 years of democracy and is one of the best celebrations on the anniversary.
But it’s one thing to have a good idea like that, quite another to carry it out. Journalists, let’s face it, often talk a good book without getting down to actually writing one. Alfred and Hawkey have written a good one.
They have picked the 25 stories from 1994, when Vuyani Bungu won a world boxing title. It’s good to see not only 25 years of democracy celebrated in this book but also Bungu, one of the forgotten sports heroes of the new nation.
There are inevitable highlights, such as the 1995 Rugby World Cup triumph, which is told from a refreshingly different angle. Alfred tracked down the man who was in charge of the Ellis Park dressing rooms where the Boks prepared to beat the All Blacks on that memorable Saturday afternoon in June. It’s a brilliant new take on what was one of the defining moments in the history of a united South Africa.
The pair have revisited similar such highlights and given them a new gloss. We sports fans all know what transpired, but Alfred and Hawkey tell us in new and different ways just how it happened. And it’s right up to date, with Kevin Anderson’s brilliant run that ended in the final at Wimbledon and the tawdry Australians who tried to cheat their way to victory on the cricket field against the Proteas – then came upstuck in what was the farce of Sandpapergate.
Don’t think this book is just a rehash of old stories. It’s bright, breezy and wonderfully told. Sports fans will lap it up.