OPINION: Chiefs and Pirates join forces for good
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APRIL 11. What a fateful day for the South African football landscape. This year the day marked 19 years since the Ellis Park soccer disaster. But April 11, 2020, is the day that marked a month since a league match was been played in top-flight football.
Fast forward to today, what if an outsider had to ask: “what has happened in the last 19 years and a month to ensure that normality is restored?”
Well, he’d be happy to know that Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs have since joined forces for the satisfaction of everyone - a feat that can ensure the members of the football fraternity will be able to fill up the stadium for the next Soweto Derby.
After all, if you ask me, I know the thrills of covering the Soweto Derby is found in the nostalgic atmosphere which is created by a fully packed stadium. And for these memories to live on, football has to be the winner of the day.
This experience I got first hand when I covered the biggest event in the South African sporting calendar for the first time a couple of moons ago as Pirates defeated arch-rivals Chiefs 2-1 to consolidate their spot in the title race.
Football was the biggest winner for the day. There was no trail of violence or sore losers - something that was quite good to witness for someone who held the freshman tag then. But there can be no denying that before the sun came out, the thunderstorms had come and gone.
But who can expect anything less, from “a father and son rivalry” that was established by the football gods? After all, it was back in the early 1970s when Kaizer Motaung left Orlando Pirates at the peak of his football career to form Chiefs Xl, which was later known as Kaizer Chiefs.
The two clubs became fierce rivals after clashing for the first time in the third-place play-off of the Rogue Beer Cup on January 24 in 1970. But such is their fairy-tale beginning and success story that followed thereafter, the two Soweto giants clash in one of the biggest derbies around the continent.
The pursuit for greatness has always led to the unfortunate but yet inevitable - blood spilled, resulting in lives being lost.
At first, as expected, the tension between Chiefs and Pirates was about player signings - like when Chiefs’ official Ewert “Lip” Nene was brutally killed on August 10, 1976 for trying to recruit Springs sensation Nelson “Teenage” Dladla to Naturena.
From thereon, it was also about results and division of allegiance - such as when a brother killed his own brother after the derby’s outcome in Umlazi, the biggest township in Durban.
But as the two clubs continued to build their brands around the globe, amassing a huge following in the process, there came a time when even the innocent faithfuls were caught in the crossfire.
Highlighted among these are the tragic stampedes in Orkney in 1991 and Ellis Park in 2001 where 42 and 43 people died respectively.
Today marks exactly 19 years and a week since the fateful event occurred in Ellis Park. So tragic was the accident that former Kaizer Chiefs’ striker Siyabonga Nomvethe, who was in the starting line up on that Wednesday, is still struggling to erase the images of the scenes of that fateful day.
Speaking on the Chiefs official website a week ago, Nomvethe said: “To date I can still see agony in the eyes of everyone in the dressing room, that was when the message was delivered that a regrettable situation had occurred in the stadium.”
While there were 43 fatalities, it is reported that 250 more supporters were injured as there were about 60 000 of them who were forcing their way inside the stadium, which was already filled to the rafters by the designated number of 60 000 spectators.
To yours truly, who was still in his early childhood when the tragedy occurred - having gone through the archives via the commemoration gestures, appalling visuals and testimonies - this seemed and sounded like a bad dream.
But as I’ve closely monitored events in the last 19 years, the optimistic side of me couldn’t help but comprehend this was a dark phase that South African football had to go through in order for the authorities to step up and understand the paramount importance of tightening security.
Sure, they may have been two recent death incidents - as a result of stampede - which were reported during the 2017 Carling Black Label Cup pre-season fixture between the two Soweto giants but since the incidents in Orkney and Ellis Park, Chiefs and Pirates’ bosses have sung in one chorus - peace and solidarity.
So it was pleasing that these two powerhouses of South African football led from front in the bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The government has imposed a national lockdown at least until April 30, forcing the domestic season to come to an abrupt pause - with the last league match having been played on March 11.
Together with broadcasting magnates, MultiChoice, Chiefs and Pirates, put their rivalry aside, joined forces to donate over 100 000 N95 masks, 100 000 gloves, 100 000 shoe covers, 150 000 surgical masks and 10 000 wipes to essential workers.
While this was obviously a welcomed gesture, many couldn’t help but wonder why the other 14 teams in top-flight didn’t have the urge to contribute. Chiefs’ chairman Motaung responded by looking at how far the two teams had come in smoking the peace pipe.
“I think it’s important for us to recall history. What happens is that as much as we are fierce rivals on the pitch in the early 1980s we decided that there’s more to it than just playing football,” he explained.
“ This is the only derby in the world where families travel together and go to the stadium. Even at the stadium, where people have to be divided between the East and West side, but we don’t get any (violent) problems because people understand that the game of football is only 90 minutes. After all, we are all human beings, one nation and a family.”
In their efforts to curb violence from the supporters in communities, Chiefs and Pirates have formed pre-season friendly tournaments through the support of their sponsors Vodacom who formed the defunct Vodacom Challenge and Black Label who are chief backers of the Carling Cup.
Having such sponsors, among many others, have widened the financial pool of the two teams. However, the same can’t be said for most of the PSL teams who depend on family businesses and monthly grants.
“The majority of clubs are family businesses. They are small- or medium-sized. And the tragedy with them is that they are not on the payroll - they are the payroll themselves,” said Pirates’ chairman Irvin Khoza.
“But coming to the question of the contribution, because we are in a state of war it’s not a question of how much you can give. Anybody can give what they can afford. And the clubs themselves are contributing quietly, and what they can afford.”
Khoza continued: “Bearing in mind that they are the payroll themselves. And the payroll is dependent on them playing matches. So, it’s a challenge that they are dealing with.”
Those financial challenges have also come to the fore for some other clubs, especially with the country under a national lockdown and the domestic season undergoing an abrupt stop in a bid to flatten the curve of the coronavirus.
The PSL may be yet to announce whether there will be pay-cuts should the lockdown be extended beyond April 30 but you just have to give it to Chiefs and Pirates, who continue to prove why they are the darlings of South African football.