JOHANNESBURG - The Premier Soccer League is guilty. It may come across as a harsh statement, but considering that for the umpteenth time unruly football fans used violence to express their displeasure towards a coach who’s not had the best results, this is a mild description of yet another crisis.
On Saturday night hundreds of Kaizer Chiefs supporters invaded the pitch at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium in an attempt to confront Steve Komphela and his players following the club’s elimination from the Nedbank Cup semifinals just seconds after their 2-0 defeat to Free State Stars. At the time of writing, two security guards, male and female, were in hospital reportedly “fighting for their lives”.
These acts of hooliganism were ugly, disturbing and quite frankly an incredibly poor advert of SA football, and the custodians of our local game - namely the PSL - have generally watched on.
They've never send a strong enough message to these hoodlums that there is no place for thuggery in the beautiful game. It is the PSL for you: reactive rather than proactive. Saturday’s incident alone is a typical example.
Just two weeks ago a section of the Chiefs fans hurled plastic bottles at Komphela and the players after a humiliating 3-0 loss to Chippa United at FNB Stadium in a league match.
Fortunately the riot-control barricades at that venue were strong enough to keep them from what looked a possible pitch invasion and an ugly confrontation with the coach, who resigned on Saturday night following the cup defeat.
The signs should have been there that every match involving Amakhosi until the end of the season should be armed with vigilant security personnel - and not only men and women who are merely trying to put bread on the table for the day, but real law enforcers.
It was clear long before the end of their match against Stars that several Chiefs fans were plotting given that a few of them were already fighting in the stands.
The police entered the fray rather calmly to try and defuse a tense situation. Nobody read the situation, despite evidence even as far back as Komphela’s first season that at some point the crowd reaction would escalate to more than just ‘Steve Must Go!’ chants.
We can applaud the league for dealing quickly with the fracas at FNB Stadium when Amakhosi were beaten by Chippa, slapping Chiefs with a R250 000 fine ( R200 000 of which was suspended for two years if they are not found guilty of a similar offence) in the same month. But that was soft.
This is not the only instance where the PSL stands culpable of being lax with handing out severe punishments to clubs and unruly fan behaviour.
Their negligence was in full view recently in dealing with crowd violence at Loftus Versfeld, where Orlando Pirates supporters endangered the lives of women and children after witnessing their team get hammered 6-0 by Mamelodi Sundowns.
It took the PSL disciplinary committee 14 months before the protracted hearings concluded with them handing down what they felt was sufficient punishment for Pirates fans who overpowered security guards at Loftus to storm onto the pitch, physically assaulting the stewards and damaging the broadcaster’s expensive equipment as they targeted the Buccaneers’ then interim coach Augusto Palacios.
But we shouldn’t be surprised. Chiefs and Pirates have been allowed to run amok with this kind of conduct going back several years now.
Remember the Ellis Park disaster in April 2001, where 43 people were crushed to death when the stadium overflowed with a capacity crowd that could not be handled?
The issue of using untrained security personnel seems to have never been addressed.
What about the Orkney disaster - described as the second worst sporting tragedy in SA sport? There, 42 people were also trampled to their deaths when more fans than the Oppenheimer Stadium could handle were allowed in and brawls soon broke out between Chiefs and Pirates fans.
Very few administrators have been held accountable, while loved ones tearfully remember the lives lost at a football match. We have said this before, but it’s no waste of breath to repeat it: the PSL needs to look at even stricter methods to convince us that “thuggery” and “hooliganism” will not be tolerated.
People often ask why the Ellis Park and Orkney disasters are never commemorated and they are never satisfied with the response to that question. Could it be that the SA football fraternity is doing its best to erase the past, sweeping its costly mistakes under the rug?
To this day, the English authorities are still holding the guilty to account with pre-trials and sentencing over the 1989 Hillsborough disaster - where 96 people died in a stampede prior to the kick-off of the FA Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Ellis Park disaster victims are still seeking closure. God forbid that two security guards who were rushed to hospital lose the battle to hold on to their lives, how long will it take before the PSL acts?
Fans, especially those of Chiefs and Pirates, must be reminded that, under no circumstances, are they beyond reproach because of the status of the two clubs in football.