by Dawn Kennedy – Apr 17th 2010, 00:00
Cape Town’s Stadium has a much-admired glass roof. Let’s hope that Mark Kulp doesn’t shatter it with his vuvuzela blowing. 021’s Dawn Kennedy put on some earplugs and went to meet the man determined to make the most noise during the World Cup. Clean cut, articulate and well mannered, Mark gives a mature, responsible first impression. But when he starts turning the handle of his WW2 siren, a naughty schoolboy gleam lights up his eyes. Ten revolutions later and a deafening wail emits from the contraption, causing the cleaning staff to flee the Ajax football club building in alarm.
Football is the centre of Mark’s life. He’s been an ardent Ajax fan ever since a friend gave him tickets 10 years ago. Currently, he’s chairman of the supporter’s branch. He believes that fans are essential to football: “Without a crowd there’s no way the boys can play to their potential. We’re the noisemakers. We keep the vibe.” Mark sees it as his solemn duty to make as much ruckus as possible. He uses military language, talking about leading troops into battle. Part of his equipment is a body bag with the names of the opposing teams emblazoned on the outside. “We bury our opponents,” he explains.
The siren, originally used to warn of bomb raids during World War 2, is only one weapon in his sound artillery. Bringing up the rear is an outsize, 2 m-long vuvuzela. Clearly, Mark was the kid who loved to bang his spoon on the table. But just in case you don’t hear him, he ensures you see him. Mark’s the one waving a purpose-made 3 m x 3 m Ajax flag. “The man with the flag leads the guys into war.” A couple of years ago, Mark attended an audition organised by Castle Lager to choose super fans to travel with Bafana Bafana. When he arrived at the warehouse with all his paraphernalia, he was asked to imagine walking into the Amsterdam Arena for the first time. He was to show emotion but make no noise. For 10 minutes, as though an actor in a silent movie, Mark had to contain his excitement and display his feelings through expressions only.
Finally, he was told that his team scores in the 89th minute. What’s his response? For five minutes Mark let loose with an exultant cacophony, leaving the audition drenched in sweat. Two weeks later, Mark learned that he’d been selected to be a super fan. He was overwhelmed: “It was like being called up to serve my country.” Becoming a super fan represents the pinnacle of a decade of vuvuzela blowing and banner waving. He left his family behind and headed off with a bunch of 16 guys, selected from each of the PSL teams, following Bafana Bafana to play a friendly in Germany. For most, including Mark, it was a trip that involved many memorable firsts. For the majority of the men, it was their first time in an aeroplane. During the particularly turbulent flight, Mark recounts how Mfundis, Amazulu’s super fan, twiddled gravely with his initiation sheepskin bracelet.
Arriving at the five-star Carlton Hotel, the group was amazed that white people were doing all the work, including taking off their coats. “We’re big men now,” said Somi, Black Aces’ super fan, revelling in the attention. A natural leader, Mark took responsibility for ensuring the correct dinner etiquette was followed. “Eat from the outside in,” he instructed those intimidated by the array of cutlery on display. Marc recounts how many of the group saved the R1 800 spending money that they were given and were shocked to see women drink more beer than men at the local nightclubs. A highlight of the trip for Mark was when he was presented with a Bafana Bafana jersey, embossed with his name on the back, by Steven Pienaar and Aaron Mokoena who grew up at the Ajax club.
“For a big man like me to have tears in my eyes is something,” he recalls. Another inspiration to Mark was a speech given by Bafana Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who stressed the importance of developing the skills of young talents. Indeed, Ajax is the only team with an under-nine youth club. Many of the kids come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and Mark’s greatest joy is watching them grow their skills. The example of Toby Soror, Lance Davids and Daylan Classen, young Ajax stars in the Bafana fi rmament who go on to earn formidable incomes, is a source of pride. “Some of our players grew up in shacks and through football
have bought homes for their parents cash. These kids are an example to others,” Mark says.
Typically, Capetonian football supporters are strong on noise and minimal on lyrics. A few months ago, Mark judged a radio competition to find 32 extra fans who would travel with the super fans to the fan camps. Entrants demonstrated a Bafana Bafana war cry. Dismayed by their long-windedness, Mark told them, “This must be a war cry, not a poetry session. If you want to write poetry, go sit in the garden.” Initially, the prosaic Cape Town approach made uniting with his more lyrical Setswana and Sesotho brothers – who like to sing praise songs to the team – something of a challenge. But given that the super fans’ motto is “Different tribes, one voice,” Mark gamely mimicked the words of whatever songs came his way.
Not always correctly. In the first month, Zion, the Orlando Pirates fan and the elder among the super fans, complained: “Aggh Mark, you’re singing nonsense.” But by now Mark’s mastered the songs: “It’s just about clicking the tongue,” he says. And anytime he gets stuck he just issues a deafening blow from the vuvuzela. You can’t go wrong with that.