Why local soccer is still not lekker

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Bloemfontein Celtic have created an identity that people in their community want to be associated with. But other clubs struggle to do the same for their fans.

Durban – I have a female colleague who claims to be a massive football fan. I was about to blame it on the Afcon fever, but then she claimed she actually supported four teams, all for different reasons.

To my mind, following the fortunes of one club is painful enough, but then again, they do say that women know how to multi-task.

When she mentioned that one of those sides was Chelsea, I sort of understood her logic. With the way things are going at Stamford Bridge, you would be foolish not to have a back-up team to provide you with some sort of cheer.

But I digress.

When she added that her other teams were AC Milan, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, I was slightly disappointed that she had no space for even one local club in her heart. It is a question that has been asked many times, yet never gets a proper answer.

Why do South African football fans seem to care more about the English Premiership than their own product? They clamour to see the likes of Manchester United or City playing friendlies here, often at inflated prices, but cannot find it within themselves to fork out R40 apiece for a local PSL clash.

Of course, the quality in Europe’s elite leagues is on another level, but even their second and third tiers get better crowds than our hallowed PSL draws. Why?

On Friday, I went to a debate on the matter, hosted by BBC Radio, who are in town for the Afcon tournament.

There were no easy solutions to the dilemma, which stretches right across Africa. On the streets of Lagos and Libreville, armchair experts will debate the merits of Arsene Wenger’s latest starting XI, but the fortunes of their local team are barely a footnote in the conversation.

Our own PSL likes to label itself as the leading domestic league on the continent, but they didn’t even bat an eyelid when deciding to close shop for two months in the middle of the season, for the sake of the African showpiece.

Perhaps our administrators and club owners need to start there before blaming “snobby” fans for turning their back on the local fare.

When rugby’s big boys head off to play in the Rugby Championship, the Currie Cup – the PSL’s equivalent – carries on, with young players filling in for the big boys. The likes of the Sharks and the Bulls suffer, due to the number of call-ups, but that allows fresh talent to constantly emerge.

And speaking of the Sharks, fans always flock to King’s Park because there is more to the outing than just rugby. There is music and braais on the outer fields, and the chance to mingle in close proximity to the players.

Football, though, seems to have lost itself in its own importance, shadowed by over-eager cops, bullying people out of their path as if they are elite citizens. It is ridiculous and, far from endearing them to the public, it alienates them.

Football is the game of the people, from all walks of life. If you have been to Moses Mabhida Stadium at any of Bafana’s games, you will know that they attract followers from right across the racial, gender and age divide.

So the fans are there. The PSL missed a trick by not creating a new fan base after the success of the 2010 World Cup, but now they have another chance. The challenge is for local clubs to make themselves more attractive.

It is down to the likes of AmaZulu, Ajax Cape Town and Platinum Stars to follow the example of Bloemfontein Celtic and create an identity that people in their community want to be associated with.

By doing that, they will also save our new crop of fans, who clearly don’t know better, the heartache of trying to follow the circus that is Chelsea at the moment. – Sunday Tribune

lungani.zama@inl.co.za


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