Time to show the flag

2010-05-22 00:00

TODAY is crunch time for the supposed fanaticism of South African football fans.

We have been told for decades about how slavishly the folk of Mzansi follow the game, how much a part of the national psyche it is, and what great potential its dedicated following offers the future of the sport.

It is a puzzle — the empty stands at matches contrasted with the record numbers of TV viewers watching local fare and the seemingly inexhaustible list of commercial sponsors, who pour millions into its competitions.

But is there a real feeling for the game? A deep-seated culture and understanding? Or are South African fans shallow and fickle in their following?

Declining numbers when Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates lose form suggests a high degree of fickleness.

There is evidently not the loyal following many might expect.

And what of the greater ideals of the game, like national unity, opportunity and pride? Do South African soccer supporters subscribe to that?

Bafana Bafana rarely get a packed house except when they go out into the provinces to play in front of crowds who rarely get a chance to see their supposed heroes.

Today is a match of much significance to South African football. It will be a poignant and historical moment.

It is the Nedbank Cup final between AmaZulu and Wits. On its own, it is no crowd-pulling fixture, but the mere fact it is at Soccer City makes it a must-see for any fan with a sense of the game.

The match is the first at the stadium since the stunning renovation effected for the World Cup. It was already an impressive venue in the way it has been transformed and carries a massive testimony to the potential of South Africa. The calabash design and the stadium’s huge capacity (some 95 000) will make it one of the world’s iconic footballing venues once the World Cup is completed.

But will the supposed fanatics grasp the significance of the occasion and be there for this opener? Will they want to be part of the occasion? Would they like to get a foretaste of the venue? Would they like to be able to say one day in the future, “I was there when Soccer City opened?”

South Africans disappointed with their slow uptake on World Cup tickets, although the price and process is a mitigating factor.

Today there is an opportunity for all to be part of history because the ticket prices are cheap (R40 for adults and R10 for kids) and they have been on sale for a fortnight already.

It would be an indictment of the supposed footballing fanaticism of this country were the venue not to be filled, irrespective of the protagonists on the day. The two teams really don’t matter, it is the occasion.

Johannesburg has always been a difficult town for crowds. Perhaps there are too many distractions. But what a shame it would be if Soccer City is not filled to the rafters for its baptism.


Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and editorial director of Mzanzi Football.

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