DURBAN – When you walk into the Harry Gwala Stadium, the first thing that stands out is the fact that it is still not a proper stadium. Only the main grandstand has a roof, while the spaces behind both goalposts still stand empty, waiting for a bit of concrete and a lot of plastic seats.
Despite all these elements of the Fawlty Towers, the venue is home to the fourth-placed team in the league, and cup finalists to boot.
Somehow, Maritzburg United have found a way to make their half-baked stadium a fortress, a cauldron of noise greeting every visitor.
“That would be my number one priority,” club chairman Farook Kadodia says, looking out at the still to be completed structure.
“If we could finish this stadium, we could have a capacity of around 18000 people here, and that would make a huge difference. Even from a commercial perspective, investing in a place with a proper stadium is far more appealing to potential partners.”
The stadium was built as a warm-up or training venue for the 2010 World Cup, but it was never fully done. The money for that project conveniently ran out, and the stamina to pursue the trail fizzled out with the end of the World Cup.
That said, Kadodia is very pleased that his side now have a training ground next to their home ground, after years of nomadic existence - going to school grounds and council facilities.
“We are very appreciative of the athletics stadium, with our training facility. It has made a huge difference to our operation. The next goal, as I said, is the stadium being completed.”
But Kadodia also has other dreams for the club he has backed for 15 years. Even now, in the midst of their best season, United still don’t have the sponsors that should be flocking to a team that is upwardly mobile.
“You would hope that the number of fans we have been attracting this season would encourage corporates to get behind us. When you look at the city of Maritzburg, we provide the bulk of sporting events over the course of a year. You would like to see more corporate support, because the returns could really be there.”
Kadodia also looked at the support that his club gets from the city, and wondered if having three teams in the top nine of the league would convince the KZN government to utilise more funds to back the sport.
As it stands, big teams like Kaizer Chiefs are still enjoying more support from local government than home-grown teams, but the fan base that United is creating may hopefully change that narrative.
Friday nights at Harry Gwala Stadium have become a phenomenon in Maritzburg, and many locals have shed their popular ‘big team’ replica shirts, and swapped them for the blue and white stripes of ‘the Team of Choice’.
To that end, Kadodia has laid on 12 buses to take supporters on an epic road-trip to Cape Town for the Nedbank Cup final on Saturday.
The buses will leave tomorrow morning, arriving in Cape Town the next day, before leaving on Saturday night, and returning home on Sunday.
The seats were snapped up in a hurry, a sure sign that the city wants to be there to witness history.
“The buses were the least we could do. Our fans have been amazing, and we hope to reward them with a victory on Saturday. That would be the perfect end to what has been a very satisfying season,” Kadodia enthused.
It has been a long road, and it is still under construction, but Maritzburg United have turned a corner in their pursuit for footballing prowess.
Kadodia and his family have watched on and invested heavily over the years, and they too will have their day in the sun come Saturday.
“I will go to the final on Saturday, but I have to keep working on Friday,” he quipped.
“It is hard work maintaining a football club,” he chuckled, walking back up the tunnel beneath the stand with a roof, which has seen much joy for his side this season.