Working for Soccer-Laduma certainly has its perks. Besides the fact that you get to work with soccer twenty-four-seven and have the best excuse never to miss a game of footy on television across all the leagues in the world, every now and then you also get the opportunity to chat to the greats of the game.
Last week I was afforded that opportunity when Puma invited me to travel to Spain to attend the launch of their new boot, the evoPower, and organised an interview with Barcelona and Spain’s Cesc Fabregas (which will run in next week’s edition).
Being based in Barcelona was a special experience for me. I’m a massive fan of Barcelona football and what they stand for, and so to be in their city was surreal. From the time you land in Barcelona you know you have come to a place where football is a passion. As you head into the entrance hall of the airport, you immediately feel that football is in the air. The conversations in the coffee shops, on the trains and in the streets are almost always about Barcelona FC. There is a buzz - a ‘feel it… it is here’ kind of atmosphere.
While there, I travelled to the Nou Camp and took the tour of the famous stadium. I got to see the Barcelona trophy cabinet (which is about as big as our Soccer-Laduma offices). I saw and experienced some of the rich history of the club. I had goose bumps from the time I walked in until the time I left.
Even when walking back from the stadium to my hotel, little kids could be seen standing, staring at this magnificent home of football, pointing. You can see that this is their dream: to one day be part of the Barcelona family; to one day have the keys to that very special house.
It’s always great coming home. After arriving back in South Africa, I was excited to share my experience with my work colleagues and the SL crew - my work family if you want. On the Monday morning as I headed to work in Green Point where our Cape Town offices are situated, I saw the magnificent Cape Town stadium, which got me thinking: “You know what, the Nou Camp Stadium is no more spectacular than the Cape Town Stadium. Yet, despite Cape Town Stadium’s beauty, there is no ‘feeling’ of football that radiates from it. It does not scream to the people of Cape Town, ‘I am the home of football’! Despite Ajax Cape Town playing there, you would never know it actually has a soccer family who call it home. It lacks a soul.
When tourists stand outside the stadium posing for a picture, it’s because it’s a cool looking structure, not because it is the home of football. And that’s when it struck me. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it as to why South Africa, despite football being the biggest sport in the country, does not exude a culture of soccer. I have come to the conclusion that for the most part, it’s because soccer has nowhere to live in between the 90-minute matches. It has nowhere to breathe, to become part of society, to count. Throughout the world, soccer stadiums are the spiritual cathedrals of a team and its supporters. The stadium is the heartbeat that ensures that there is a pulse throughout that city, down the streets and into the houses and the hearts of the fans.
In England, when you get off the plane and you pick up a paper or you listen to the conversations, you know that soccer lives there. It’s the same in Italy, Holland or Brazil. Soccer lives. But here in South Africa, not so much. And I think it’s because these soccer ‘homes’ - the stadiums in this country - do not allow soccer in for any longer than is necessary. Get the people in, get the game on, get the people out.
For the most part, soccer squats in soulless stadiums on weekends then is evicted until the next game. I wish somehow we could change that. We have teams like Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns who are huge and have such proud histories. But landing in Joburg, you would never know it.
In Cape Town, Newlands cricket stadium has that feeling, Newlands rugby stadium has that energy, Loftus Versveld has that feeling for Blue Bulls rugby in Pretoria and the Shark Tank (Kings Park Stadium) in Durban exudes that feeling. But I can’t find a soccer stadium with that kind of feeling in South Africa and for me, club bosses in this country need to somehow address this and start building soccer homes: soccer cathedrals and places of worship for those whose religion is soccer.
We all know there are millions of soccer fans in South Africa, but so few go to stadiums anymore. So perhaps it’s time South Africa gets its houses in order.
Part two next week…
Follow Clint on Twitter: @SoccaClint