Besides some of the things our players can do with a ball on a football pitch, one very unique thing about South African football has always been the way opposing fans interact with each other.
In some countries, opposition fans have to be sectioned off with police barricades or barbwire fencing. Local governments have to close streets and man them to provide an entry and exit point for one set of fans, and a completely different one for another.
At times fans are ‘held’ in their sections for up to an hour until opposition fans have had sufficient time to leave the immediate area. In other countries, there is still a culture of ‘ultras’ – militant extremist fans – meeting up in pre-determined places to have full-on brawls.
That has never been part of South African soccer. We are one of few countries in the world that can lay claim to a top 10 derby game in world football – a derby as passionate and meaningful as any other, on the planet – yet a fan culture where opposition supporters walk to the stadium together, sit next to each other and sing and dance despite the score line; where the fans walk home together after the game, no matter how tight or controversial the result.
At worst maybe a loaf of ‘daily bread’ or insinuations that a four-by-four is the other team’s preferred choice of transport may occur, but it really doesn’t ever get nastier than that. Which is why the scenes in the stands on the weekend between Orlando Pirates and Bloemfontein Celtic’s fans are so disturbing. To see this kind of behaviour – fans throwing punches at each other, kicking each other, tearing up seats to throw at each other – well, it’s the one time that you are thankful that South African stadium attendance is so poor. With a jam-packed stadium, who knows what could happen if this type of behaviour becomes the norm…
Now, in saying that, I am not painting all the fans that were there with the same brush. I know it is a very small faction. But it only takes one spark to cause a fire. Our Supporters Club editor put a column on the website addressing the incident and some of the comments from the supporters back this up…
There will always be a difference between soccer fans and soccer fools. I am just saying.
That’s what happens if your team is followed by not so smart fans. Their behavior was so unwarranted. Wish AmaZulu can buy their status and relocate the team to KZN. (The players who are left can) bahambe baye ku FSS. – Ntsimbi08
Money talks – your badge will be bought and your violent fans should be happy about that. – DopeZN
Think before you #act what were they thinking vele? –vuvuzela_khosi
Fans don’t think before they act because now they are in trouble for their action. – sanelezl
The sad thing is that Siwelele supporters have always been heralded as some of the best in the league. Win or lose, you will find them singing and dancing in the stands. Many players who have played in the famous green and white hoops have spoken about the uniqueness of the Celtic faithful and how they are always so supportive, regardless of the scoreline.
Yet, all of a sudden, with the club now up for sale and reportedly the only buyers interested from outside of the province, the reality is that these passionate supporters are on the brink of losing their beloved club.
Owner Max Tshabalala has put up the ‘for sale’ sign in response to the violence and vitriol from a section of his club’s fans but there are two sides to every story. One has to wonder whether it would have reached this point if more of an effort had been made to engage and understand the concerns of Celtic’s supporters.
One of the major frustrations of the fans, based on what some more prominent members have told Soccer Laduma, is that they have continually tried to initiate talks with the club’s management, yet have been rebuffed. It has been maintained that the only way left for them to ‘voice’ their displeasure as a last resort was to publically show their unhappiness.
I personally hope that all parties can sit down and discuss the way forward. The PSL is a better league with a joyous, jubilant Bloemfontein Celtic in it. They have glorious, knowledgeable fans who embody everything that South African soccer claims to stand for. We all hope and pray for the return of the spirit of Siwelele…