Photo: John Sibley/Reuters
JOHANNESBURG – I have often heard people refer to South Africa as a football nation and my reaction has been nothing but a frown and a wry smile.

Just look at the stadiums on match day and the low tickets sales, with the exception of the Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.

That should tell you something.

By the time you read this I would have had an incredible fan experience, albeit VIP-esque in its nature at Stamford Bridge, the home of the new English Premier League champions, Chelsea. But that is not what prompted me to compare my beloved country to England.

From the minute I arrived I could feel that I am in a place where football is treasured – a friend invited me to a pub some few kilometres away to watch the first leg of the Championship promotion play-off between his team Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield.

I didn't go because I was desperate to do touristy things, but he sent me a video clip of the mood there a few hours later and it was unique and special, this despite the game ending in a goalless draw and now with all to play for in the second leg on Wednesday.

I also got my hands on newspapers here. I was intrigued to see how they’d gone about covering Chelsea’s championship-winning match against West Bromich Albion last Friday and the matches on the weekend.

Chelsea celebrate winning the title after beating West Brom. Photo: Carl Recine, Action Images via Reuters

It’s all over the news and properly covered here, with the race for the top four to qualify for the Champions League still hotly contested between Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal.

The survival to avoid relegation from the Premier League was wrapped up on Sunday when Hull City joined Sunderland and Middlesbrough in going down.

Describing this place as a football-mad country is not misplaced at all, I have come to have a full first-hand experience. South Africans have a long way to go. But maybe we are just too spoilt with all the big matches on TV.

Here in London, I barely switched on mine, partly because I am generally not interested in watching anything on TV when I am travelling and also because there was no football anyway.

Bernard Parker celebrates with his Kaizer Chiefs teammates. Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

With Tottenham Hotspur hosting Manchester United on Sunday, it appeared there was a blackout in this part of London or maybe the hotel I am staying at did not have the full Sky Sports package.

It’s just incredibly difficult to catch a game on TV, you have to go to the stadium or a pub miles away to watch the action.

I had to follow the match on my phone through a Premier League app with all the score updates. I’m pretty sure I would have gone to White Hart Lane if I had arrived a few days earlier and not on the same day as the match.

In South Africa, the natural habit is to be a slouch on the couch.

We are far from keeping up with the standards of a football nation.

* Molefe is in London as a guest of Unilever South Africa.


The Star

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