Lekoelea: Imagine scoring in front of empty seats

Premiership

Orlando Pirates legend Steve Lekoelea has raised concerns about the continual absence of fans at stadiums and the effect it has had on the Soweto derby.

Domestic football continues to be played without fans due to the Covid-19 pandemic with five Soweto derbies having now already been played behind closed doors since last year.

Lekoelea was left with so many questions as Chiefs got the better of his former club Pirates this past weekend. 

Scroll through the gallery to see action from the Soweto Derby

"This matter of continuing appears one hell of a difficult challenge from where I am sitting," Lekoelea tells Kickoff.com.

"I, for one, would have failed to play under these circumstances. Imagine scoring a goal and celebrating in front of empty seats or dribbling someone with no noise from the stands. Not for me.

"I feel most players are genuinely battling to cope with playing in empty stadiums. It feels lonely and cold playing in front of empty seats especially if it is in a derby. I saw last week there was all this hype being created about the derby and I was just imagining players walking out into empty seats at FNB Stadium. How can walking into an empty stadium have a derby feel?

"Are you supposed to play the game with an imagination of fans in the stands? To me, it is more like a training match where teams are wearing different kits. I would have thought that a sizeable number of fans would have been allowed last week just to get players back to having a feel of playing a derby match that feels different to training.  

"I speak for players, and I know there are some players who need the push from the stands to perform and so it has really been a struggle since games started being played in front of empty seats. Playing football in an empty is way too much of a psychological challenge and difficult because you just must keep imagining things. It is awkward and hard. The value of fans must never be underestimated.

"Those are the people who provide the motivation for players because nobody ever wants to disappoint so many people especially in a fixture like the derby. The thrill about the derby is in the numbers in the stands. I loved fans and appreciated the pump that they gave me from the moment I went in for the warm-up. I know the players are suffering now in the absence of fans especially in a fixture like a derby whose souls is in the numbers on the stands," says Lekoelea who spent almost a decade at Pirates.

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