The 12th Man: Good crowds must not be a once-off, but the onus is on clubs to keep things moving

The beautiful sight of packed stadiums ushered in the new Absa Premiership season last weekend.

The crowds at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville, Orlando Stadium in Soweto, Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa and Thohoyandou Stadium in Venda (as usual) made for a perfect picture.

The teams responded with impressive displays on the park, and not one game at these venueended goalless – a testament to the influence a strong crowd can have on a game.

It is a fitting coincidence then that today we introduce a new column – The 12th man – with the aim sharing our views from the grandstands. I regularly cover the domestic football matches and have over the seasons observed what a difference the supporters can make.

The fans are the game’s lifeblood and there is no doubt that they are an important group within a multibillion-rand industry.

It would be remiss of the clubs not to have a strategy in place to ensure they maintain such huge turnouts.

While on an assignment to cover the recent Afcon tournament in Egypt, I was privileged to visit the headquarters of local powerhouse Al Ahly.

What captivated me most was not the sprawling facility in Cairo, but the intimate connection between the club and their supporters.

And there is an array of benefits for “members only”, such as easy access to the club’s amenities, as well as the senior team’s players.

A similar arrangement can work like a charm for a South African fan. Local clubs can introduce “open days” for their card-carrying supporters, where they invite a limited number of fans at a time for interactive sessions with players and the technical staff.

This can only strengthen the bond between the two parties and, most importantly, give fans a sense of belonging in their favourite clubs.

There is no denying the fact that attendances at the stadiums – or a lack thereof – were severely affected by the advent of televised football matches.

But the onus is still on the clubs to do their bit to encourage the fans to attend the games in their droves.

It should start with teams playing attractive football, and a true supporter will be persuaded to be there at the next match, no matter who the opposition is.

Sometimes I find it odd that self-appointed social media football analysts and armchair critics are dismayed by the sight of poorly attended games.

But it doesn’t help matters when people who hardly go to the games or simply come up with solutions are constantly criticising the teams.

The PSL and its sponsors must be commended for often coming up with initiatives that offer fans a little something extra.

The launch this week of the MTN8 is a case in point – a new fan campaign was introduced for this season.

Dubbed Own the Game, the fans will be involved in making key decisions, have a say in picking the player of the match as well as the prize they would like to win during the tournament.

Similarly, the league’s title sponsors have played a role with their Kick-for-a-million contest – and the only way for the fans to qualify for the R1 million prize is for them to be at the stadium.

These incentives have already laid a solid base for the clubs to work on to make their home games days to remember.

The opening weekend of the local football season was a blast and we can only hope that it continues this way. Our national teams also need the same love, especially when they play at home.

Here’s a salute to the multitudes of fans who rallied behind Banyana Banyana during the Cosafa Women’s Championship in Port Elizabeth. Since the tournament kicked off last week, the support has been amazing.

Follow me on Twitter @daniemothowagae


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