Monday, February 18, 2013

Malaise on the pitch, malaise off the pitch

At the weekend, I went along to FNB Stadium to watch Kaizer Chiefs v Free State Stars. With Orlando Pirates leapfrogging Chiefs to top spot during the week, Chiefs desperately need to win to keep up the pressure. Chiefs won 2-1 but the three goals couldn't hide the fact that it wasn't the best example of the beautiful game.

Yet the game didn't only suffer from a lack of excitement on the pitch. In a stadium that can hold 90,000 people, there couldn't be more than 20,000 (the PSL do not supply accurate attendance figures). Empty seats aren't the most conducive for generating an exciting atmosphere. Maybe the R40 (£2.90) ticket price is too much for regular supporters? Maybe regular broadcasting of games on Supersport and SABC is keeping fans from the terraces? There is no data or evidence in South Africa to answer these question. However, what is evident is a major structural issue in SA football. If the biggest supported domestic club in South Africa cannot get close to filling half of the national stadium, what hope is there for the other clubs?

Fans clearly have better things to do with their time

Still, some hardy fans gave it a good go.

During the match, the advertising boards occasionally flashed up the following message:

That's just asking for trouble
Admittedly, patience isn't something that many South African football fans have. Within two minutes of the game kicking off, a poor touch incited Chiefs fans to boo and demand a substitution. Now if you support a team, booing and jeering is going to undermine the confidence of the players. I can understand why the club would send out these messages. Yet, what right do they have to expect these fans to conform? After all, it's the fans who buy the tickets and spend too much on over-priced merchandise. They've paid to be entertained and if the team isn't performing, you're not get your money's worth.

But who is right? Should the clubs simply expect blind loyalty from fans when they treat them as consumers and throw out expensive tat for them to gobble up? Some can separate 'team' from 'club', such as Manchester United fans who "Love United. Hate Glazers", but surely fans who deny their club a valuable revenue stream are damaging their team?

Maybe Simon Kuper is right, that football is just a job or business. Maybe we shouldn't have sympathy for those fans who complain about the state of the global game and then proceed to buy yet another replica shirt, myself included? Maybe we have the game that we deserve?

N.B. As I published this, Kaizer Chiefs have publicly condemned the booing fans from Saturday's game. The club's Facebook page has stated that "The Club will not tolerate this behaviour and perpetrators will be identified and dealt with accordingly." Will be they really be able to do this?

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