It is that time of the year again. Derby day is quickly approaching in Soweto, when Orlando Pirates will host Kaizer Chiefs at the FNB Stadium this coming Saturday. Understandably, the derby has been overshadowed by the success of Mamelodi Sundowns in the CAF Champions League this past weekend. I am not too sure the level of excitement would have been different either way though, with the once headline fixture in the PSL calendar becoming just another game in recent years. It also does not help that neither Pirates nor Chiefs look convincing going into the game, and it will be interesting to see whether they can pull a solid crowd come Saturday. It is no secret that the two have struggled to fill the 94 000-seater venue a few times since the 2010 World Cup, and a lot has had to do with the fans expecting a boring draw. But say what you like, a derby is a derby and those who truly love football will always go and see their favourite teams battle it out.
Photo credit: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
The one thing I personally don’t like about the derby is the over-friendliness of the two sets of supporters. Part of the reason the derby was so exciting in days gone by is that there was an element of fierce rivalry between the two. Do not get me wrong, I do not in any way condone violence and hooliganism in the name of football, but you cannot have Chiefs and Pirates fans associating with each other on match day. I remember my first ever Soweto Derby at the stadium. There was a clear division between black and white, and black and yellow. The tension was palpable in there. You knew that if your team is the home team (because they both play the derby at FNB), you sit on the main grand stand from whence the teams are coming from. If you are the away team, you sit on the other side, looking directly at the tunnel. There was no mixing up. I know that there are those cases where people come from the same house but support different teams, and they can just pick whichever side they can both sit. Flip a coin or something. But those are isolated cases that will not dilute either set of fans.
Photo credit: Nick Lourens
I heard PSL chairman Dr Irvin Khoza some time ago say with pride that this is the only derby that unites the two sets of supporters at the stadium. I could not help but think: ‘There’s a reason for that.’ There is no single derby around the world, be it Milan, Manchester, London, Merseyside, and even El Clasico (What about Tyne-Wear? – Ed) where you will find fans of opposing teams sitting alongside each other at a game. It is just too taboo. I also feel like the reason you find violence at the stadium is because fans find themselves in the ‘enemy’ camp at the wrong time. Your team scores, you celebrate wildly because it is your right. Then it does not sit well with those you chose to surround yourself with because, well, it is their team that was trailing and they feel you disrespected them. It is the same phenomenon of saying showboating hurts the opposing player and he will be provoked to tackle you (which I completely disagree with because that is not what Law 12 says). But if you are going to implement it that way, surely the supporters’ well-being should also be taken into account.
Photo credit: Nick Lourens
I feel like although we know that football players are friends – and there is nothing wrong with that – they take the cue from the supporters on derby day and play like it is a derby. If the fans can have a go at each other the whole match instead of complaining that it is a boring game, then the players will play like they are wearing a Pirates or Chiefs jersey. Notwithstanding that there are a lot of players that just do not deserve to play for these two teams and are too ordinary; the derby can go back to being the main attraction on any given weekend they decide to put it. Only if the rivalry can be resurrected. The trash talk should have begun by now. Tickets should be already sold out. By Thursday the players should already be having sleepless nights because of people stopping them everywhere to give them that “gees” going into the weekend. People should be talking so much that they know they can’t afford to lose because Monday will be rough at the office if they do. That is the spirit of the derby we grew up knowing. That is what made us wish we could one day see it live. If it does not go back to that soon, then I am afraid the deterioration will continue on a downward slope to a point where our kids never experience the true feeling of South African football. Perhaps even more devastatingly, end up enjoying foreign football more than they do local if at all.