Why there were more English than SA fans at Newlands

A member of the England Barmy Army at Newlands (Lloyd Burnard)
A member of the England Barmy Army at Newlands (Lloyd Burnard)

Cape Town - After England beat the Proteas in a thrilling second Test at Newlands on Tuesday, they were greeted by surreal scenes as Joe Root and his men completed a lap of honour to songs of celebration and a standing ovation. 

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The Newlands crowd, for the entirety of the Test, was majority English and that was even more noticeable on days four and five when many South Africans returned to work. 

Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis admitted after the contest that the energy from the crowd had undoubtedly helped England, particularly when things were tense in the final session.

Du Plessis said the English support was "incredible to see" but concluded by only half-jokingly suggesting: "Next time, hopefully we can put a block on the amount of tickets we give away."

Ahead of the Newlands Test, 50% of the tickets were allocated to English supporters and 50% to South Africans. 

That weighting is determined by the Western Province Cricket Association (WPCA), with the New Year's Test comfortably their biggest cash generator of the year. 

WPCA keep 40% of the income of all tickets sold, and in June last year tickets were made available to English supporters through online purchases and travel and tourism packages. 

South Africans, meanwhile, had to wait until October before they could purchase tickets and days one to three were sold out in 48 hours. 

The tickets on sale to the English are more expensive than the tickets made available to South Africans.

What proved to be more problematic, however, was the unregulated purchasing and reselling of tickets, with the Official Proteas Supporters Club (OPSC) identified as an area of concern by the WPCA. 

The OPSC is a vehicle used to promote the national side and a payment of R59 per month allows a member early access to ticket purchases as well as a range of other benefits.

In the case of the New Year's Test, each member was allowed to purchase 18 tickets and that, according to WPCA CEO Nabeal Dien, contributed towards the English outnumbering the locals at Newlands.  

"We know of three people within the Proteas Supporters Club that used a number of people to buy tickets because you can only buy 18 tickets," he told Sport24 on the morning of day five. 

"They get 10 people to buy 18 tickets and then they've got 180 tickets, and they then sell those tickets on to the English. There is no mechanism for us to stop it."

Dien says that the '50/50' policy is one that was implemented when England were in South Africa in 2015/16 and in 2009/10. 

"In the 2015/16 Test match, it was easily a 60/40 split in the stadium," he said.

"I don't know how you stop it and if you can stop it."

Another factor that impacted attendance in this Test was the ongoing construction at the north end of the stadium, where four office blocks are currently being erected in a development worth an estimated R750 million. 

It saw stadium management forced to cordon off one section of the ground, losing an area that accommodates over 1 000 spectators, while they could also not erect the usual temporary stand that is a common feature of high-demand Test matches. 

The construction took the capacity from 22 000 to 16 000.

"I wouldn't be surprised at all if there are 5 000 more English people in Cape Town, but watching this on TV given the demand in the last week from the English fans," Dien added. 

The reasons given for tickets going on sale to the English earlier is that they need to plan their travels in advance.

Allowing South Africans earlier access to purchases and increasing their allocation is something that Dien and the WPCA will now be under pressure to consider. 

The increased allocation to South Africans moving forward is also something that CSA's acting CEO Jacques Faul is in favour of.

Despite that, Faul said the positive spin-off of having a large foreign contingent in the ground was the financial injection that came with it.

"As much as it's problematic that you have a home match with more English supporters, there is a value in tourism as well," he said.

"From that point of view, you actually want to encourage people from other countries to travel here and spend money here." 

Chief Commercial Officer at CSA, Kugandrie Govender, told Sport24 on Wednesday that while the OPSC sales were not significant enough to create the tilt in numbers seen at Newlands, CSA still had a responsibility to act.

"The OPSC is an important platform for us and we are committed to its continued growth, but we need to do more to discourage this type of unethical behaviour," she said.

Govender was setting up a meeting with Ticketpro and CSA's own ticketing team to address the situation going forward.

"We need to revisit the whole ticketing system and look at measures we can put in place to ensure that the process moves as smoothly as possible," she said.

"We understand that it was disappointing for South African fans at the ground over the last week, feeling like they were at The Oval or Trent Bridge, and we as CSA have a responsibility to take these concerns seriously moving forward."

According to Toby Marriott, the media manager of England's famed Barmy Army, there were around 8 000 English supporters at Newlands for the second Test, 600 of whom were official Barmy Army members. 

"We partner with the South African tourism board to showcase this beautiful country, not to only watch the cricket but explore the culture," he said.

"We're not just about watching the cricket, it's about meeting people and having fun and to give back.

"Obviously, we have a massive impact on the local economy by not only drinking lots of beers, but by raising money for local charities and bringing about positivity." 

The third Test gets under way in Port Elizabeth on January 16.

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