“Here where the blood is spilled, the arena’s filled, and giants play their games” – Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball, 2012
From Bellville the N1 runs southwest towards Cape Town. The six floodlit courts on the right illuminate the Century City sky as the highway runs past the wetlands that surround the arena. The slipway to the left takes the road back over the highway, heading back towards the Atlantic Ocean and becomes Sable Road which cuts between the Ysterplaat Air-force base and the Ratanga Junction theme park. Yellow building cranes tower over burgeoning office blocks, parking lots and residential units. Without much warning, Sable Road’s name changes to Ratanga Road just before it reaches the lavish apartment blocks that line it.
Continuing along, the smart Tuscan villas of Century City are replaced by lower income housing and the shacks of the Joe Slovo Park informal settlement. Rather than heading straight on, we turn right and glide back towards the highway as it reaches the BMW-dealership. Century Boulevard, which faces the steady encroachment of more and more brick and mortar structures rising up around it, is hugged by Canal Walk and Ratanga Junction on either side before it reaches the Mercedes-Benz dealership. Here we see evidence of the eternal tension between the value of land and limited available space. Mercantile Road feeds outwards from Century Boulevard and divides the Mercedes-Benz showroom on the right, and Fives Futbol on the left. The Tuscan villas, 400-store shopping centre, hotels, hospitals and churches are all crammed onto 250 hectares of some of the most precious land in the country. The two luxury German motor vehicle brands are not the only corporate giants that have established themselves in the area. Regional offices of the likes of tobacco giant Phillip Morris International, Absa Bank and Discovery Health have also established their footprints in Century City.
The brown parking lot at Fives Futbol Century City is dusty when dry, but the uneven surface swiftly turns into a splash of muddy puddles with the slightest bit of rain. It can hold up to about 200 cars, and is never empty. The entrance is guarded by the properties of two much-decorated heroes from South Africa’s rich sporting history. Soviet Olympian Vladimir Kotov won the gruelling Comrades Marathon three times after the turn of this century, and famously set the record for the “Up Run” with his first win in 2000. His running apparel shop is bordered by a branch of Gary Kirsten’s cricket academy. The record breaking former South African cricketer and World Cup winning head coach of the Indian team has built permanent cricket nets right next to the football pitches that were to become our stomping grounds after we first set foot there in 2014.
The tunnel-like entrance is flanked by the ladies and gents change-rooms. Inside the white tunnel, yellow and black spaces have football slogans neatly painted on the walls: “The best decisions are not made by your mind, but by your instinct” and “Some people say that football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that, as it is much, much more than that,” an observation commonly accredited to the immortal Bill Shankly although this is still much debated. The benches run along the walls, with a few more bolted down in the centre of the passageway. There is a small door leading to the odoriferous showers on the right. A sign with the question: “Which player is longest in the shower?” dangles above the shower door. Back inside the tunnel, bright lights draw one onward to the sound of refs’ whistles blasting, players and supporters yelling, encouraging or cheering, all while the latest FIFA- or PES soundtrack is belting out over giant loudspeakers facing the courts. The rhythmic chanting can be heard in the distance, bringing us closer to the stuff we have only previously seen on TV, closer than we could ever have imagined possible!
The bar, complete with a wooden deck and umbrella-shaded benches, overlooks the A-court with the B-court lying immediately beside it. Courts C and D are situated out the back whilst courts E and F run parallel to the highway. A stretch of swampland, separating these facilities and the highway, lies waiting and eager to gobble up stray footballs that inevitably fly over the fences - some never to be seen again.
By now we’ve not only been witnesses but have become part of the spilled blood, sweat and tears that are poured out on these pitches. We’ve heard the tearing of muscles and ripping of ligaments and have emitted nauseated gasps as we’ve cringed at the dreaded sound of snapping bones. We have exclaimed together with the fans at wonder strikes, missed sitters, brave saves, crunching tackles and fist fights – all characteristics peculiar to a unique spirit of tribalism we were slowly but surely becoming a part of. Flash-points of brilliance - and sometimes sheer gritty stubbornness - were being woven into the tales of heroism driven by the refusal to accept defeat.
We too would soon find ourselves not only part of a pool of horribly limited players, but we’d also know the feeling of playing with and against some of the giants of these synthetic grounds. Fives Futbol Century City was to become our home for the next couple of years together with loads of drama, spills and thrills that lay waiting for us as we prepared to officially enter a team into the football league.