Benni McCarthy on his goals against Namibia: ‘I wanted to shove those Banana Bananas down their throats’

Benni McCarthy in a cover shoot in January 1998, a month before the Africa Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso.
Benni McCarthy in a cover shoot in January 1998, a month before the Africa Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso.
Image: Thomas Turck/Gallo Images

Benni McCarthy has recalled how when he scored his four goals for Bafana Bafana against Namibia at the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations it was the chants of “Banana Banana” by that country’s fans in Windhoek a few months previously that had driven him.

McCarthy’s four goals in 14 minutes (8th, 11th, 19th, 21st) at Stade Municipal in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, tore the gut out of Namibia in a 4-1 victory to South Africa. It announced the arrival of a new 20-year-old star, who had signed for Ajax Amsterdam seven months previously, on the international stage.

Six weeks previously, on January 24 1998, new coach Jomo Sono had taken a full-strength but hastily prepared team to the Cosafa Cup in Namibia, where the hosts shocked Bafana 3-2 at Windhoek’s Independence Stadium.

“Namibia was incredible, you know,” McCarthy said in a press conference with the SA Football Journalists Association (Safja), recalling his four goals in Burkina Faso.

“But for me it was more of a grudge match because I made my debut coming on as a substitute against Holland, under Clive Barker, when we lost 2-0 at FNB Stadium [in June 1997], with a cameo for a few minutes.

“But my real debut came when Jomo made me the important figure of the team when we went to play a Cosafa Cup match in Windhoek.

“I had a pretty special game, with an assist for ‘Chippa’ [Phil Masinga], but unfortunately we lost. And I remember the celebrations of the Namibians because they had beaten us. And the whole stadium sang this song, ‘Banana Banana’.

“That game was just the curtain-raiser for the Afcon for us. And I said to myself, ‘If I’m in that Afcon squad then I’m going to make them eat their words, those bastards’.

“At Afcon, there was the Angola game where Jomo made that miracle substitution where I had retaliated, and got ‘injured’ after I should have been sent off, and my tournament would have been finished.

“The Ivory Coast game I had a swollen ankle so missed it, and we managed a draw, so it was two draws in the first two games.

“We needed to win against Namibia, so I just told Jomo that I would take an injection because I really wanted to play, and I wanted to shove those ‘Banana Bananas’ that they called us down their throats.

“Come the game I was psyched up. I had a nice strapped ankle and I genuinely couldn’t feel the pain.

“As the game went on that was the only thing in my mind — ‘Banana Banana, Banana Banana’. And every goal that went in I kept singing to myself, ‘Banana Banana, Banana Banana’.

“The game finished, and I had scored the four goals, which was incredible and I was so jubilant.

“And shame, even now when I think about it I was a bit of an asshole to the Namibian players at the end, because every one of them came up and wanted my shirt. And I said, ‘I ain't giving my shirt to you — you were singing Banana Banana’.

“So that was for me what was behind that performance. Just getting them back for calling us Banana Banana.”

McCarthy went on to become Bafana’s all-time top scorer with 31 goals in 80 games, and the only South African to win the Uefa Champions League with FC Porto in 2004.

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