South African football supporters, listen to me and listen to me carefully! I know this is nothing new, you’ve heard this before on this platform and somewhere else and you’re probably not hearing it for the last time but, for heavens’ sake, please listen!
We need to rid ourselves of the culture of delaying football games. For too long now, our games have had to be delayed due to thousands of our people arriving at the stadium just before kick-off time and still expect to make their way to their seats before the first whistle goes. This just can’t continue unabated. A lot of people get injured during the last-minute rush to get into the match venue. Hearing the crowd going wild inside the stadium while they’re still busy looking for their entrance is never a nice feeling and can lead to panic. Fights, frustration, and misunderstanding erupt and put everyone in danger. The bottleneck that is caused at the turnstiles poses a serious danger to everyone and the fact that the powers-that-be always exercise caution by allowing at least a 15-minute delay, for safety and security reasons, doesn’t make this awful behaviour right. It doesn’t condone it. We need to unlearn this bad culture of arriving at the stadium late. It has to stop!
You can’t leave your house, which is more than 30kms away from the match venue, just 30 minutes before the game starts and expect to make it on time. We need to plan these things properly and we are not doing it for anyone other than ourselves. Rushing to get to the stadium on time, when you left it until too late, puts not only yourself in danger but others as well and running the risk of not even making it to the stadium, alive or healthy. Some people arrive at the stadium on time, chill in their cars playing loud music and drinking alcohol to ‘kill time’ until minutes before kick-off. Once again, this is not right because it undoes everything right you’d done, like arriving on time, because you end up being late when you were well ahead of time.
Our late arrival has far more implications than we seem to comprehend. It doesn’t just affect those who arrived early. It affects the players – more than anyone else – because they warm up and psyche themselves up for the game. Just when they leave for the change room after warming up, to get dressed and come to play, they get told that there’s a slight delay due to a number of supporters who are still making their way into the stadium. This throws the players’ psyche completely off and some might not even recover their momentum and when they don’t perform, the very same people who caused their loss of momentum and focus boo them for ‘not giving it their best’. Like in everything, there is a routine that one follows and the same can be said about playing football. You do everything you can to make sure that your routine remains the same because, deep down, you know a lot depends on it even if no one else believes in it. Some call it being superstitious, but it is what it is. We also have the broadcasters that have to run to schedule and any minute lost comes with a massive loss and can also cause a logistical nightmare as far as programming is concerned. That also affects those who are watching the game at home as they might miss out on post-match interviews or analysis because of the time lost during the delay.
The League’s reputation is also put into disrepute as the continent, sometimes even the world watches the much-talked-about Absa Premiership and it doesn’t help our cause when an organisation looks to be so poor because of late arrivals. We can really do better to promote our league and ensure that we get the best out of the Beautiful Game. It starts with you, where you play your part and encourage those next to you to do theirs. We can definitely unlearn this culture and we are not going to stop talking about it until people start treating it with the seriousness it deserves. We don’t want to see another Ellis Park or Oppenheimer Stadium disaster where people lost their lives in two of the most unlikely places, football stadiums, where they’d gone to watch the game they love so much. They never made it back home and no one should experience that. You don’t understand the difference between life and death until you find your back against the wall in a stampede. These things can be avoided because they are all bad habits and we will never get tired of talking about them until we get the message through to our people. It is the same as the gender-based violence against women and children – we don’t have to stop preaching about it and only talk about it when the next victim resurfaces. We were not born with these cultures, we learned them along the way and we can, therefore, unlearn them. It will take a massive effort from everyone to root these bad cultures out of our system so that we can start enjoying the Beautiful Game without putting anyone’s life in danger. We can do this South Africans, I know we can. Let’s show it starting from this weekend’s much-anticipated Telkom Knockout Soweto Derby, the first of a series.