I arrived at my place, less than 3km from Orlando Stadium, just before midnight last Saturday after covering Orlando Pirates’ clash with SuperSport United in the MTN8.

It was nothing new to me because arriving at my place at midnight or the following day is part and parcel of my job. But this was the first time I returned home just before midnight from a stadium that’s within walking distance. 

This normally happens when I am covering games in Pretoria and have to make the long trek back to civilisation.

The reason why this happened was that some geniuses decided to kick-off this match at 8.30pm in order to accommodate the triple header that started with Mamelodi Sundowns vs Golden Arrows at 3pm followed by Kaizer Chiefs vs Free State Stars at 6pm. 

The extra 15 minutes, with the late kick-off on Saturday normally at 8.15pm, was put in place to accommodate Chiefs’ clash with Ea Lla Koto should it go to extra-time and penalties.

Luckily for the broadcasters that match finished in 90 minutes. The poor souls at Orlando Stadium though were the biggest losers because they had to be at the stadium at ungodly hours. Their sin, preferring to cheer for their team at the stadium instead of watching it on TV.

The scheduling of games in football tends to favour couch potatoes at the expense of the beautiful games’ soul  the fans who come to the stadium in their numbers. 

It’s ironic that this season the tag-line from one of the sponsors is Bring Your Voices but the “voices” that need to be brought at the stadium are an afterthought when it comes to scheduling of matches.

Public transport in South Africa is a nightmare. It’s unreliable, unsafe and practically non-existent at night. 

To expect fans from Pretoria to come to Soweto for a game that kicks off at 8.30pm, with the possibility of going to extra-time and penalties, is unfair. 

Heck, that’s too much to ask even for people from Soweto because of the vast size of the township and the fact that a large number of them rely on public transport.

If we continue on this note the numbers at the stadium will dwindle even more. 

The broadcasters schedule the games like this because they want to get the most of the billions they invest in acquiring the rights. 

The number of people who have bought decoders because of domestic football has grown by the millions. Those millions needed to be well taken care of to keep their subscriptions.

But the thousands who make the pilgrimage to the stadium should be the first priority because without them there is no football. The fans have brought their voice this season. 

The numbers look good and even the notorious Orlando Stadium, with moody fans, has recorded a large number of supporters who come to back the Buccaneers. This means that if we did a better job in taking care of them the numbers would even be more impressive. 

With more numbers at the stadium the product will look even better on TV which is why it’s also in the broadcasters' interests to ensure we take good care of the people who make the time to go to the stadiums.

There is a way of ensuring that fans who watch on TV and those who go to the stadiums are both taken care off, without isolating the other. 

A great deal of our unreliable public transport needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to scheduling of games. That means fostering better relationships with people from the various modes of public transport.

A great example of this is Rea Vaya, which covers the length and breadth of Soweto and takes supporters directly inside FNB Stadium and to the gates of Orlando Stadium. 

But the buses to FNB Stadium are only there for the Soweto Derby. The commuters of these buses have to sort themselves out for the other matches because they need to be “activated” to drop people at FNB Stadium for non-Soweto Derby matches.

It’s easy to criticise and say fans aren’t filling the stadiums. Yes, laziness does lead to people staying away. 

But there is also the issue of practicality; certain kick-off times make it impossible for people to go to the stadium knowing they will be safe and will find it easy to return home afterwards.

* Ngidi is a football writer for New Frame.


Saturday Star

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