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Fans come to praise Booth, not to boo him
Matthew Booth stands out in the South African side. At 1,98m, he towers over his team mates and is also the only white player in the home team’s starting line-up at the Confederations Cup.
He is also very popular with the fans, the majority of whom are black, and who remember with particular affection the role he played as captain of the South African under-23 side when they beat Brazil at the Olympic Games nine years ago.
Booth has only just made it back to the national side after a long hiatus. His club career in Russia had cost him a place in the Bafana Bafana team, as he disappeared out of the local consciousness and was ignored by a succession of coaches.
Every time he touches the ball, both for Bafana Bafana and for his club Mamelodi Sundowns, the crowd chant, “Boooooootttt”.
Few favoured players get such reverence from South Africans fans.
Lucas Radebe, a predecessor in the heart of the South African defence, elicited a chorus of “Rhooooo” every time he played a pass or cleared an attack. Mark Fish was “Feeeesh” and another favourite, John Moshoeu, “Shooooes”.
When the German defender Robert Huth played at Chelsea, a similar sound used to echo from the Stamford Bridge fans whenever he touched the ball.
To the uninitiated, when Booth touches the ball, the chorus of approval sounds like a wall of derision. Given the racial history of South Africa, it could be misconstrued as negative barracking and because he is white and the majority of the crowd black, it takes on an even more negative connotation.
Booth patiently explained to confused foreign journalists at some length after the match against Iraq on Sunday about the chant. Almost all wanted to know why the crowd were on his back. Was it because he was white?
But some missed the explanation, including the Spanish daily El Pais who wrote of the “sadness” of a white player being derided by the majority black crowd. The irony is that it could not be further from the truth.
PHOTO: South Africa’s Matthew Booth (L) challenges Iraq’s Nashat Akram during their Confederations Cup soccer match at the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg June 14, 2009. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen