Charleston Battery midfielder Stephen Armstrong was born in Liverpool, England, but grew up in South Africa, the site of the 2010 World Cup that begins Tuesday. Armstrong talked about apartheid, his future in soccer and his predictions for the World Cup when he went one-on-one with The Post and Courier's Andrew Miller.
Being a citizen of the country, what does it mean to you that the World Cup is being played in South Africa?
"I never thought I'd see the day. It's a dream come true for everyone over there. The only regret I have is that I'm not going to be over there to watch it. I think it's going to give people all over the world a chance to see what South Africa's really like. There are a lot of people that have never been and don't know what to expect, and I think this might help erase some of the stereotypes about the country."
You were growing up in the country when it was going through a major political upheaval.
"I was there the day when Nelson Mandela got out of prison. Robben Island where he was in prison is only a few miles off the coast from my house. It was an awesome period to live through and be a part of. I think when you're that young you don't appreciate it, but now you look back on it and realize that the whole world was watching and how it did change the world for the better, I think."
You had some racial incidents when you were a kid playing soccer?
"Yeah. We were playing in a tournament in Johannesburg in 1993 and our team was a white-owned team from Cape Town. We had a mix of players on the team, all races, but because we were considered this white team we were stoned during the game. Kids from the African National Congress had a demonstration and stoned us. We had to sit underneath the stadium for two hours while the police came in and had to settle things down."
When you were growing up, they didn't let South African teams compete in international competitions?
"That's right. We couldn't compete against any of the African nations either. When the ban was finally lifted in 1994-95, I was actually able to compete on the national youth team, which was a great honor. That was my first experience competing against international teams. As a kid, you dream of wearing your nation's shirt."
You came to United States in 1996. When you told people you were from South Africa, what kind of reaction did you get?
"It was mixed. I had some people that thought because I was white I was a racist and I had something to do with apartheid. I tried to tell them that I was born in Liverpool and the majority of people I hung around with were European. The majority of the trouble came from the Afrikaner farmers. They were the worst."
What do you remember about the 1998 World Cup Rugby championships? The tournament that inspired the movie "Invictus?"
"I actually watched that movie for the first time the other day and I thought it was great. I don't think people realize how important that was for the country. South Africa was a heavy underdog and won and people were celebrating that for a couple of days. I think that showed you what an incredible person Mandela was after being imprisoned for all of those years. He wanted to unite the country and he was forgiving and that was hugely important for South Africa to move forward toward democracy."
You were born in England and moved to South Africa at age 3 and lived there for 18 years. You've lived in the United States on and off for 13 years. So what nationality are you?
"I consider myself English, but I'm a citizen of South Africa. I have an English and South African passport. But I love it here in the United States. I would love to become an American citizen and get my green card."
You played for five seasons in Major League Soccer with D.C. United, Kansas City and Columbus. Are you disappointed that your career in the MLS didn't last longer?
"I don't have any regrets. I was injured, had a couple of surgeries, and I could have tried to fight back into the league, but I didn't and ended up here in Charleston."
How did you get to Charleston?
"(Former Battery assistant coach) Mark Watson was a teammate of mine at D.C. United and he played here. He thought I'd fit it in here pretty well and he was right because I've been here ever since."
You're 33 -- how many more years are you going to play?
"I still love to play and I'm pretty healthy right now. I want to play as long as I'm productive and can stay healthy. I want to be a college coach, but the problem is that I love Charleston so much I don't want to leave. I think it'll have to be a great job for me to leave the Battery."
You've scored 24 goals in a Battery uniform -- any one stand out to you?
"I had one in the U.S. Open Cup against Dallas that I hit from about 30 yards out that I'm pretty proud of."
Who's your favorite player?
"Steven Gerrard. I just love to watch him play. He didn't have a very good season this past year, but I'm such a huge Liverpool fan that Gerrard has been my favorite player for a while. I don't like some of the things that Cristiano Ronaldo does, but obviously his talent undeniable. I think Fernando Torres is a great player, too."
The United States takes on England in the opening game of the World Cup. Who do you like?
"I've got to go with England. The U.S. has a great team. They had an awesome tournament last year in South Africa, but England should win. They just have too much talent. I'll be cheering for England."
Who's going to win the World Cup?
"I think Argentina or Brazil. I'll go with Argentina. I like Spain and I like the way they play, but I think a South American team is going to win."