On paper, South African football is right up there among the best on the continent, that is if you look at the commercial side of things like infrastructure, media coverage, organisation and everything in-between. However, when you take all of that away, what you are left with is the seriously worrying fact that our Beautiful Game is in danger!
While the PSL powers-that-be have raised the bar and managed to get the league ranked among the best in the world – and arguably the best in Africa – they must be scratching their heads when watching our teams play in front of empty stadiums. That’s probably one of the reasons the attendance figures have been concealed in the league’s official website in recent years. Even the Soweto Derby attendance figures have plummeted recently, which is a clear indication of the worrying state our Beautiful Game is in.
Growing up, watching PSL games on television was always a highlight of my weekend, but nothing beat the experience of going to the stadium! I knew I would come back sharing special moments that took my breath away, and bragging to those who had missed the game or hadn’t gone to the stadium. The conversation always revolved around the stadium experience and, if you missed out, you’d definitely feel out of place, as you wouldn’t have anything to add to conversations. It would be like those who went to watch the game live were speaking in a foreign language.
Remember, back then, there were at most two PSL games televised per week, so going to see games live was essential as you wouldn’t want to miss out on the action. There was no Barclays English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A, UEFA Champions League or Europa League on television. I’m talking way before 1994… the “born-frees” must be wondering how in the world we managed to survive. Well, that’s the problem I’m talking about right there! We survived, as our situation was the best we knew. We didn’t know of anything better, as we were competing against only ourselves. Back then, it was South African football versus boxing versus rugby versus cricket, etcetera. Local football was, for most of us, the best form of entertainment and there were times when, even if you were not anywhere near the stadium, you would hardly see anyone in the streets for the duration of a game. It was a complete standstill, with everyone glued to their television screens. But today, even when the Soweto Derby is being played, life goes on as if nothing is happening. Some don’t even bother to watch the biggest football match in the country… and if that’s not a sign of South African football being in danger, I don’t know what is.
With the emergence of the internet and international exposure, we now find ourselves competing against the world. SuperSport TV’s international sports coverage means one can now sit in the comfort of one’s home and watch almost 10 live games from Friday to Sunday night, without having to part with petrol or taxi cash to go to the stadium… not even buy a ticket. So unless there’s something special for fans at the stadium, there’s very little chance of an ordinary supporter opting for a trip to the stadium over watching a game on television. Again, once you’re at the stadium, you lose your ability to channel-hop whenever the game you are watching doesn’t live up to expectations. The younger generation is also more exposed to international football than they are to local football, and the increasing numbers on the international news section on Soccer Laduma’s website, as well as the higher demand for more international content in the paper, just confirms this growing challenge facing South African football.
Before we know it, international football will be taking over and that’s the last thing we need. As much as we embrace international football, PSL football is our bread and butter. The fact that the EPL is looking to continue to establish themselves in South Africa, with La Liga having already opened offices in Johannesburg, is not a fluke. They know all about the demand for their product in this country and that’s scary. We are now starting to see more people supporting overseas teams as their first choice and then a PSL side, something which has always been the other way around.
The disconnect between the clubs and their supporters doesn’t help either. Do the supporters even matter to their clubs these days? Whenever supporters don’t feel appreciated or valued, the best way to voice their concern is to stay away from the game, which, to me, is much better than hurling missiles when watching a game in an effort to get a message across.
The willy-nilly club purchases, relocation and renaming also go a long way to discourage passion and investment in the game. The Morfou brothers (Mario and George) recently launched Alex Black Aces, a new ABC Motsepe League team they bought hardly six months after they “reluctantly” sold their PSL franchise to former Ajax Cape Town boss, John Comitis. Having witnessed what happened in Mpumalanga, do you honestly expect Alex dwellers to fully throw their weight behind a club that might not be there once the club’s mission to earn promotion has been accomplished?
Yes, we did qualify for the Olympics, yes Mamelodi Sundowns are in the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League, but I’m talking about what really counts - full stadiums at local games.
South Africa, wake up and smell the coffee before it is too late! Our football, whether we like to admit it or not, is in danger! The sooner we swallow our pride and work together, especially with the supporters, the better…