Johannesburg – Stuart Baxter has launched a scathing attack on his own fans for booing Zimbabwean striker Kingston Nkhatha during Saturday’s Soweto derby.
Nkhatha was roundly jeered by Amakhosi fans inside FNB Stadium, from the first time he lost the ball, until he silenced his naysayers by scoring a controversial goal three minutes from half-time, the equaliser in a 1-1 draw.
It is far from the only time Nkhatha has been booed by his own fans, with Chiefs captain Itumeleng Khune issuing a plea last week for this behaviour to stop.
Clearly it went unheard, and Amakhosi coach Baxter was furious as he sat in the Derby post-match press conference, claiming the supporters’ behaviour had affected not just Nkhatha, but the entire Chiefs team.
“It is a sad state of affairs when after 20 minutes, and three mistakes, your own supporters are booing a player. People can call it part of the culture, I call it madness,” said Baxter.
“It is amateurish, if our supporters want us to go anywhere, they must kick this habit immediately. It impacted on all of the team, when Pirates were dominating you did wonder how much of a part the supporters were playing. I thought Kingston showed enormous strength of character, I was pleased he scored a goal.
“(But) it (the booing) is absurd … it is despised by everyone in the dressing room. If it was a Pirates player I am sure they would be equally dismayed. Yes, we can have opinions and get angry with a player, but you need to know what damage this does not just to one player, but the whole team, and the whole club.”
This was a scrappy Derby, more notable for off-field moments like jeering supporters, some poor officiating, and a second half brawl, than too much on-field flair.
The classiest moment from either side came from Orlando Pirates, who put together a delightful move in the 10th minute involving Daine Klate and Thabo Matlaba, and ended with Kermit Erasmus brilliantly volleying the Buccaneers into the lead, his first league goal in a Pirates shirt.
Chiefs did fight their way back into the game, and began to press Pirates back as the half progressed, but were still lucky to get their equaliser, Nkhatha standing clearly offside as he turned in Siphiwe Tshabalala’s shot.
After a bright start to the second half, the game petered out, and tempers boiled over as almost all the players on the pitch became involved in an on-field scrap. “It was certainly not something you want to see on the football field … but if you take everything out of football, the risks, the dangers and the passion, then you end up with a boring product,” said Baxter. “I hope the crowd experienced it as passionate players wanting to stick up for their teammates. It was handbags, lipstick.”
Pirates coach Roger De Sa concurred: “It was just handbags, a bit of argy-bargy, it didn’t get out of control. We go on about the officiating, but when you lose control of a game that can happen.”
De Sa’s finger was clearly pointed at Victor Hlungwani, who was certainly staggeringly lenient throughout the Derby. Willard Katsande was desperately lucky not to get a second yellow card, for one, for a poor tackle from behind on Andile Jali.
And it was Jali looking for revenge that seemed to spark the brawl, the Pirates midfielder himself not even picking up a yellow card for his actions.
Pirates must now turn their attentions to a second star, and the first leg of their African Champions League final on Saturday in Orlando. Chiefs, meanwhile, face Platinum Stars in the Telkom Knockout semi-final on the same day.