Last Friday, before the big Soweto derby weekend, I tweeted the question, “How much does it cost you to go and watch the Soweto derby?” I instantly had replies tweeted back at me and there was quite a wide range of prices. The locals, those in and around Joburg, basically said that it cost anything between R150 and R300 when you factor in tickets, travel costs, food and drink. Some said if their team wins then add another R200 for celebrations with friends for the rest of the night. Then there were those that had to travel from further away, who said that it cost them anywhere between R1 000 and R3 000 to attend and enjoy the Soweto derby.
Now for some of our fans, R300 is a week’s wages. R3 000 is a month’s wages. But that doesn’t stop them from spending their money to attend what should be a game that is a celebration of our football. A game that is meant to showcase everything that is right with South African professional soccer. There is also genuine interest from around the world when it comes to this fixture because it is ranked by many football authorities as one of the top club derby games in world football.
In fact, this game was beamed out to almost 150 million households around the globe. Just before the start of the game, I tweeted, that for one weekend this month, our star players and our derby highlights would sit on the sports reels of newsrooms around the world and rightfully take their place with the Real Madrids, Barcelonas and Manchester Uniteds of world football. That highlights of Itu, Yeye, Jali and Sangweni would take their place alongside the highlights of Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney.
In retrospect, I wish this derby hadn’t been beamed out to the world. I had friends from around the world texting me, asking me how on earth I can put up with sitting through mind-numbing football like this. And that if these were supposedly the best two footballing sides in the country, they can only imagine what games between smaller teams in the league must look like. It made me angry, embarrassed even, because I talk up our PSL football to anyone who will listen.
What made me even angrier was thinking about how these derby fans made huge financial sacrifices to be at this game, and that in return, these two great clubs dished up this slop! If I’m Stuart Baxter or Roger de Sa and I’m watching this from the sidelines, knowing the world is watching, I’m embarrassed. Because the fact that my team cannot keep the ball in the opposition half for more than a minute, or that my team can’t string more than five passes together consistently when put under pressure, or that my wingers can’t knock a decent cross in, is a reflection of what I must be doing on the training pitch. The fact that I have the best ball players in the country at my disposal yet my passing game at times resembles two rugby teams kicking for territorial advantage… that’s an embarrassment.
What’s more, if I’m a player for one of these two teams and after the game I pull on my designer clothes, get into my expensive car and drive past my fans, some of whom will be packed into taxis for the next couple of hours as they make their way home, I would be embarrassed. This derby that is meant to be a celebration of South African soccer was an obscene spectacle. It celebrated everything that is wrong with football. Playing out of fear, protecting one point, playing the percentages, throwing imagination out the door - none of this belongs in a derby of this magnitude. At best these are very poor tactics masquerading as ‘modern football’.
Yes, a derby game can be tight. It isn’t always full of goals. But the standards should still be upheld. The proud history and pedigree of the clubs should still be plain to see. Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates are world-class brands. The only thing world-class about this derby was the fans, their passion, their commitment and their love of the game.
Some of the best coaches in the world, the likes of Arsene Wenger, Pep Guardiola and Alex Ferguson all agree, the world’s top teams have an obligation to play the game the way it is meant to be played, to play the Beautiful Game. Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates should be held to these same standards.