Broken fields of dreams

2019-11-04 16:29
Ben Hartshorne, the vice president of Savages FC, stands outside the derilict Manor grounds. PHOTO: Moeketsi Mamane

Ben Hartshorne, the vice president of Savages FC, stands outside the derilict Manor grounds. PHOTO: Moeketsi Mamane

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The once thriving amateur soccer scene in Pietermaritzburg has all but dead because of Msunduzi’s failure to maintain facilities, which has caused nearly 30 public soccer fields to become derelict.

The situation is so bad that at least 25 clubs have closed in recent years, owing directly to a lack of playing fields, and there is no formal amateur league whatsoever for senior teams this year.

Out of the 26 fields which amateur clubs used to use, just one, Dales Park, is in use. The rest have been allowed to degrade, and today are unkempt, have muddy, uneven playing surfaces, are used as parking lots for taxis and party spots for revellers.

Some grounds have been taken over for other purposes, such as the old Tatham field, next to Jika Joe, which is being used to build municipal flats.

At its height, the local soccer scene had four senior leagues and several junior leagues, each league having between 12-15 clubs. Now there is no senior league, and one league for over-35s which has just seven teams.

This is another example of the City’s failure to maintain important public facilities having serious consequences, after the recent fiasco at Bisley Nature Reserve where animals died from starvation or from being snared.

This situation has dented Pieter­maritzburg’s proud soccer heritage, which includes having the oldest soccer club in Africa, Savages FC, established in 1882, which is also the ninth-oldest club in the world.

Savages FC once boasted a strong intake, with about 350 juniors and between 150 and 200 senior players per year. Now they have about 200 juniors and 60 seniors.

The lack of fields have forced amateur soccer clubs to use private fields as alternatives, which comes with unwanted fees. The few private fields in the city also cannot accommodate hundreds of players.

A survey of some fields by The Witness last week found pitches to be uneven and muddy in places; broken glass and signs of revelry are littered on grounds; taxis used the grounds as a parking space; and clubhouses and changing rooms had been taken over by vagrants.

Veterans in local soccer said the scene was suffering a “slow death”, and that “hundreds” of players have pulled out of competitive amateur league.

Ben Hartshorne, the vice president of Savages, said the team had seen a drop in hundreds of players at their club in recent years because of the lack of fields. “What used to happen was there were groundsmen who would maintain the fields. There were goal posts, the fields were marked and everything was painted.

“Now at least 25 clubs have capitulated because of this. We are forced to use private fields but we can’t cater for hundreds of players with them and they incur fees so that adds up.”

Hartshorne said matches would draw thousands of supporters in amateur soccer’s heyday, but that is no more. “On a Saturday you could go to any field and you’ll see soccer from 12 pm to 5 pm, and on Sunday there’d be cup games. Now there’s nothing.”

Henry Lamprecht, another veteran in local soccer and who is the chairperson of Collegians FC, said he has seen interest in soccer seriously dwindle because of a lack of facilities.

“We used to have a rich arrangement of fields and also hosted leagues from outside [Pietermaritzburg]. Now amateur football is all but dying.”

Lamprecht said: “Quite a few clubs closed and people lost interest because they can’t play any games. The few fields that people were using got overused and now it’s tough to play on them.

“There’s no policing done at all of fields, so people just do what they want on them. And it’s not like we can take matters into our own hands because the municipality is in charge of the fields.”

Msunduzi was sent a detailed query about this issue last week, but did not respond.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  savages football club

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