ROUND about the time Proteas batsman Hashim Amla lifted his bat for a century against Sri Lanka in Centurion, a call came in from a friend and business associate asking me if I was going to the game between Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates the next day.
I knew I wasn’t but I politely said I’d call him if I did. I was enjoying a rare day at the cricket, sitting in the stands and soaking up the sun. I hadn’t a care in the world. I feared nothing bar the long lines in the men’s toilets or a meaty six from Amla headed towards Block G.
Watching the soccer at home, I was glad I didn’t go to Loftus to watch the barbarism and hooliganism unfold. My friend and I and his son had been to games before. Once we went to watch AmaTuks against Kaizer Chiefs at the University of Pretoria on a Wednesday night, where we spent the night inquisitively talking to people about what would make them attend more games.
His son was always by his side, as most of us who’ve been fortunate enough to have our father among us. He was asking for ice-cream, chips, this and that, running around freely at the LC De Villiers fields – but not so freely that he was out of sight, this was a soccer game after all, an unpredictable event by nature.
Watching as the pictures on SuperSport started to blur – like an apocalyptic movie scene seconds before the aliens invade earth – seeing irate Pirates fans rip the broadcast cables from the ground, bashing a security gate with impunity, gave me a sickening feeling. I remembered that my friend could be at the game and in danger. Worst still, his son could be with him. I should have called to check if he was alright. I didn’t and luckily I won’t live to regret that moment of temporary neglect.
But this column isn’t about the merits of our friendship but rather the dangers of the game that’s loved by many and how the buck needs to finally come to a halt. Now. My friend did actually go to the game with his son and I found out on the Sunday when he posted a picture of the cute little boy, whose frizzy hair was hidden neatly inside a cap, looking forlornly at the violence on the field. “#Stadium Never taking my boy here again,” his post said, simply.
And just like that, in one fell swoop, future football stadium attendances had lost a generation. The only way to get them back is to assure the parents of the young boys and girls whose lives were put in danger by malicious cretins clad in black. And the only way to assure those parents is by imposing a harsh, tough love, corrective measure against violent fans.
It will hurt but ban fans from attending March 4 Soweto derby between Chiefs and Pirates. It will be the biggest statement of intent from the league and the clubs.
Sure, the sponsors won’t like it and everyone will lose their ounce of the cash cow in the process but this is bigger than that. Actions such as those that took place at Loftus, where the players scurried to the changing room after the sixth Sundowns goal was scored, are enough to kill the future of the game completely. People don’t go where they feel unsafe. Stadiums will become a haven for thugs, if they aren’t already.
Sponsors might feel like a stadium ban could hurt their exposure. Crowd violence will hurt their brands even more. How long do you think it will take Absa CEO Maria Ramos to pull the plug on the Premiership sponsorship if the ugly scenes continue? Not long, ask the Springboks, who lived under the false sense of security that Absas sponsorship money was a birth-right. Today, SA Rugby is in and out of boardrooms with a begging bowl asking for whatever they can get. And there hasn’t been a stadium security breach in rugby since deranged maniac Pieter van Zyl leapt onto the field to tackle Irish referee Pieter McHugh in 2002.
Chiefs fans might feel like, “Why should they be punished for the behaviour of their neighbours?” The answer to that is simple, they’ve also yet to account for the violence shown to Steve Komphela during a poor run of results when the team lost twice and drew five times between October and December.
It wasn’t the first time. He was pelted with bottles in March last year, too, when Jomo Cosmo consigned them to a fourth straight defeat.
The Premier Soccer League has lost its libido for dealing with clubs’ violent fans. They don’t have the balls for it anymore but the infractions are piling up and the hooligans are getting away with it.
Lock the FNB Stadium gates for the first weekend of March. Some well-behaved fans might be hard done by but the ill-tempered thugs will be taught a lesson. Bring in the corporates to fill up their suits and cover your costs of switching on the lights. Everyone else can listen on the radio.
The beauty of the game will be quickly wiped off if this violence continues. And one day you’ll wake up and there’ll be nobody at a Soweto derby anyway; people will no longer want to risk their lives for it.