Our sports fans are a despicable bunch … It’s time the home supporters got behind their teams

2013-12-18 00:00

FOOTBALL fans in KwaZulu-Natal are a despicable bunch. Yes, I said it. Actually, sports fans in this country are a fickle lot who will ditch a side because they’re not winning or stop going to games because “it’s going to be shown on TV anyway”.

We’ve been called a “sports mad” country time and time again. But, whoever came up with that tag probably did so in the glory years of 1995 and 1996, when Francois Pienaar, Neil Tovey and Hansie Cronje were the leaders of formidable national sides.

Back in those days, when the Premier Soccer League was still in its infancy, KZN clubs such as Manning Rangers and African Wanderers were a mainstay in the top flight. Yet, despite both sides featuring prominently, and the Mighty Maulers — featuring one Clinton Larsen — winning the league title in the 1996/97 season, they struggled to fill a stadium.

Nowadays, KZN sides like Maritzburg United, AmaZulu and Golden Arrows struggle to get fans to the games, and there was no game where that was more noticeable than in the first provincial derby of the season at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, when the Team of Choice beat Usuthu 2-0.

Why do fans not go to stadiums? Ask anyone, and he will say, “If the team was playing well, then maybe I’ll want to go and watch them play week in, week out”.

Rubbish. If that were the case, the Tshwane derby between Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United would be played in front of a full house. It is not. The “other Soweto derby” between Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows, would also be played in front of a packed stadium.

The problem is that there is too much football on television, and fans are so fickle that they would rather support one of the two big teams because it is easier to support winning teams. But, there have been instances where even South Africa’s glamour clash has struggled to fill up the stands. Then, cameras were positioned to the empty seats.

Then, watch an English Championship game between Tokelo Rantie’s Bournemouth and Dean Furman and Bongani Khumalo’s Doncaster and you will see stands packed to the rafters.

Why can’t we fill up our stadiums in the top flight, when in England, the second tier does so with ease?

One can say that it is due to history, and how the locals identify with teams. The reason Pirates and Swallows became so big was because they took on players from the community, players that the fans knew personally. That is also how Chiefs began in 1970.

Today, fans just support Pirates or Chiefs because everyone is doing it.

Orlando Pirates were in PMB a few weeks ago, and fans came out in their numbers. But, a lot of them were shouting for the mighty star chasers, who, at times, could have felt like the home side.

Can you imagine Manchester United taking on Liverpool at Old Trafford and hearing the majority of the crowd cheering on the Scousers, or what about Catalans in the Nou Camp spurring on Madridistas? Those scenarios would never happen.

Home advantage should mean that a visiting team is so intimidated by the crowd that the home team gets a boost. For instance, when Stuart Broad is fielding on the boundary at the Gabba, or when Luis Figo takes a corner at the Nou Camp in the white of Madrid, or when the Stormers take on the Crusaders at Newlands … Okay, that’s a bad example, but the point has been made.

Football fans in Pietermaritzburg made a massive noise last year when The Witness reported that there was a possibility that the team would be shipped off to Port Elizabeth. “Pietermaritzburg won’t have any PSL football. We will be deprived,” they said in their numbers.

The team remained in the city, yet Pietermaritzburg football fans do not appreciate the fact that the city has a club in the top flight, whereas other bigger cities such as Port Elizabeth and East London do not.

With Maritzburg United going on a run of five losses on the trot, Golden Arrows not doing any better, and AmaZulu also struggling from time to time, surely it’s time the home fans got behind their teams.

Home ground does not mean the team will have an advantage because they know the grass well.

Home ground advantage is the feeling of inadequacy visiting teams should feel when they find that they’re not playing against 11 men, but 20 000 home fans too.

Those who have played some form of sport in the past will know what a big difference playing in front of a large crowd can do for one’s performance.

Go out there and support the teams. They need support to do well.

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