Editorial: Love at first sight

by Patrick Kidd

Love takes shape in many ways. The feeling that it bestows is indescribable, with many people that are truly experiencing the sensation being oblivious to this fact.

Love can occur between anyone; family, friends, pets, spouses, partners and infinite other characters within a person’s life. But, the one form of love that is indisputably stronger than the rest, is the love that one has for their local sports team.

There is something magical about the ups and downs of sports that instils a vigorous obsession with the club, which leads to communal solidarity and spirit, a feeling that “conventional” love just cannot replicate. It has taken me 19 years to realise that I may never feel enough love for another human being to match that which I harbour for Maritzburg United, my local football team.

My earliest memory of Maritzburg United was love at first sight experience. On a frigid winter evening in 2008, a seven-year-old me sat in a crammed Harry Gwala stadium with my father and brother to witness the magnificent club achieve promotion to the top division of South African football, the Absa Premiership. After a Fadlu Davids brace, the home team had secured the win, and with the blow of the final whistle, every spectator in the arena leaped from their seat and charged for the pitch, leaving the security in their wake.

I recall my father gripping my arm tightly, an enormous grin on his face, and escorting my brother and I safely out of the stadium. I felt like I was part of something bigger than life itself.

Social, racial, political and gender differences were meaningless as the euphoria of the win bound the community of Pietermaritzburg together as one. And that is an emotion that could never be replicated.

The distinction between the support of a local sports team and that of an international club is one extremely important and too often overlooked. There is an intimacy that one has with their local team that does not correspond with supporting internationally.

I have had personal interactions with associates of Maritzburg United that I would never be able to have with players I admire from overseas.

Last year, on a rowdy Friday night in June, I bumped into Eric Tinkler, coach of Maritzburg United, at my local pub, and that is the type of intimate exchange that does not associate with international sports supporting.

The members of Maritzburg United are like family members to the football community of Pietermaritzburg and it’s this personal connection that makes local sports so magnificent.

I don’t just love Maritzburg United as an organization overall. I love each and every single member of the organization on a personal level, and it’s this remarkable rapport that just cannot be replicated by “conventional” love.

A pessimist might look at the relationship between sports fan and club as a closer sibling to Stockholm Syndrome than to love, and they would have a strong case for this argument.

If any person caused me as much torture and heartbreak as Maritzburg United have, they would’ve been cut from my life a very long time ago.

In my lifetime, I have been privileged enough to watch my team participate in two separate cup finals, in 2018 and 2019, both of which they lost in the final minutes. The sting of one cup final loss would already be enough to collapse a personal relationship, so after two excruciating losses, why does my support remain resolute?

There is a sense of pride and commitment that I have in Maritzburg United that I maintain unwaveringly and that allegiance will remain with me until my death. And, frankly, the contemplation of going through that same agony over a fellow human being and maintaining allegiance afterwards makes my stomach churn.

I have, at last, come to the startling realization that I will never love another human being as much as I love Maritzburg United, and I’m okay with that. The features of local sport make it exceedingly easy to fall in love with, and time only strengthens that love.

Maritzburg United, you were my first love, you are my eternal love and you will be my last love.

I couldn’t fathom a life without you.

You complete me.

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