Tonight is about as big as a Maritzburg sporting event can get

2014-05-03 00:00

IT isn’t very often that Pietermaritzburg is blessed with the opportunity to host massive sport.

Every season, the Oval hosts a couple of domestic matches where the Dolphins try, and fail, to attract cricket lovers to the ground. In their defence, the lack of crowd support in first-class cricket is a problem all around the country that has been well documented.

Still, there are a select few who appreciate the opportunity to see South Africa’s best group of cricketers — past, present and future — do battle.

Comrades comes once a year, as does Dusi and Midmar Mile, but these are still not the sports that most of us devote our weekend television time to.

The same can be said about the various UCI MTB events that have come to the city. They are organised superbly and have been relatively well supported, but there is a greater sporting audience that is hungry for something else.

Then there is the curious case of Maritzburg United, who play week in and week out at Harry Gwala Stadium with a solid support base that moves between 2 000 to 5 000, depending on the opposition and fixture scheduling.

That the Team of Choice plays host to Orlando Pirates in tonight’s Nedbank Cup semi-final is just reward for this loyal group of supporters, who will finally see their team play on the biggest stage. A place in the final of this country’s version of England’s FA Cup awaits, and that alone is reason enough to get excited.

It hasn’t been an easy ride for the Team of Choice fans. Under Ernst Middendorp, goals were few and far between, and a seemingly constant hovering fear of relegation over the years has meant that there is often more reason to curse than celebrate.

But tonight, win or lose, Pietermaritzburg will be treated to a match that matters. It will be tense, it will be energetic and it means the world to both teams.

We are a country that is passionate about our football. For some of us, that passion is reserved only for the English game. Fair enough. The Premiership is an attractive league that boasts the best players in the world. But if you have ever considered starting a career as a local football fan or ever let a thought stray towards supporting your geographically determined team, then tonight is the time to act. There are unlikely to be many better nights at Harry Gwala.

With the stadium expected to be sold out, one should see a large amount of Bucs fans in attendance. But the Pietermaritzburg army won’t go unnoticed. They will be vocal and they should make up about half of the crowd support.

The club needs to be applauded in their decision to keep the game in Pietermaritzburg. They keep 40% of total ticket sales and would have made significantly more had they motivated for the match to take place at Moses Mabhida.

Instead, Harry Gwala and Pietermaritzburg will be in the spotlight.

Enjoy it, because those who have been watching this club for long enough know that such moments do not come around often.

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