Sweet smell of support for Bafana in the City of Roses

BAFANA fans were in full voice at Free State Stadium as they celebrated Iqraam Rayners’ opening goal against Zimbabwe. Photo: BackpagePix

BAFANA fans were in full voice at Free State Stadium as they celebrated Iqraam Rayners’ opening goal against Zimbabwe. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jun 13, 2024


Comment by Mihlali Baleka

THE passionate football supporters of Bloemfontein embody the town’s nickname – the City of Roses – as they offer a bouquet of special joy and pleasure.

That was on full view when they came out in full force on Tuesday when Bafana Bafana were in town, bringing a buzz to the Free State capital.

It was a night on which their cacophony of noise and support reminded the masses why football needs to come to this part of the country on a regular basis.

The vibrant people of Bloemfontein have been sent into a deafening silence in the professional football landscape since the sale of Bloemfontein Celtic a few years ago.

But their backing of Bafana from start to finish in their 2026 Fifa World Cup group stage qualifier against Zimbabwe proved that they are not dead, but merely sleeping.

They found their voice during the match, helping coach Hugo Broos and his men down their northern neighbours 3-1 to climb to second place in Group C.

This wasn’t only a master-class in support from the locals, but it revived the memories of exactly 14 years ago when last the national team visited the city.

Bafana stormed into Bloemfontein in the last group match of the 2010 World Cup on home soil and beat France 2-1, even though they crashed out of the tournament.

And that’s not all. Tuesday’s atmosphere, from the team and supporters, excellently honoured the 14th anniversary of Siphiwe Tshabalala’s memorable opening goal at the 2010 global showpiece.

June 11 will now not only leave a lasting memory for Tshabalala, but for Bafana coach Broos, who lauded Tuesday’s crowd as the best he’s seen since taking over the reins in 2021.

While the electrifying atmosphere touched Broos, he also controlled it and allowed his charges to live up to expectations by feeding the football-starved supporters.

Oswin Appollis was a perfect replacement for the injured Percy Tau in the starting line-up as he was involved in both Thapelo Morena’s goals in the second half.

The introduction of Morena for Elias Mokwana at half-time was also a masterstroke from the silver-haired Belgian, given how things panned out.

Morena stepped into the fray to not only repay the faith shown to him by Broos, but to the people of Bloemfontein, who were there when he started his professional career at Celtic.

For all Morena’s perfect homecoming, there was still something to celebrate for the youngest jewel of the team, Relebohile Mofokeng, 19, who made his Bafana debut.

Mofokeng’s debut was made possible by captain Ronwen Williams, who asked Broos to bring him on, which spoke of the camaraderie within the Bafana squad – something that pleases Broos.

The SA coach said they want to return to the stadium some day, given the reception and support they received, and the onus is on Safa to make that happen.

Hopefully the governing body will also use the experience to learn that people still believe in the national team and are ready to support Bafana if games are taken to them.

With three more home games to play in the World Cup qualifiers next year, there’d be no better time to take football to the people, given what’s at stake.

After all, the City of Roses, which has the most passionate supporters in the local football landscape, has already led by example, and whichever town that will follow must replicate or surpass their turn-out.

And should that happen, that will spell good news for Safa, who now know the importance of the 12th man.