Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Diary of an Umlungu* at the Soweto Derby - Part Two

Saturday 9th March 2013

I had decided long ago that I was going to drive to the stadium myself, rather than travel with the branch of the supporters club that I'm a member of. So often they've been late or just on time. This time I wanted to get there extremely early to get a good seat and avoid yet more traffic chaos. There would be chaos as well as there were fewer police roadblocks and ticket check than at the Afcon. 

Smiles before a mediocre game

As soon as I'd got out of my car, I was greeted by a bunch of Chiefs supporters who, with the now customary greeting of "Hey, umlungu!", asked if they could take my photo. The one Pirates supporter looked at me with disdain, telling me that I should swap teams and support the Buccaneers. I just laughed it off and told him that Pirates fans would be crying by full time.

No matter how hard I try and fit in, I always seem to look stupid!

Arriving three hours before kickoff, the stadium was fairly empty. A few had had the same idea to avoid the chaos that comes with arriving later but I was free to wander around the stadium. Eating my now customary pap and steak, I could relax before the tension really started to build. With two hours to go, I found myself in the front row near the players tunnel. I was with some of the regular, and well-known supporters, swapping match predictions while boiling in the afternoon sun. Many asked me if I was cold as I was wearing a hoodie, but they laughed when they realised that I was just trying prevent myself from being burnt to a crisp. 

The SABC presenters were constantly adjusting their makeup

The SABC pundits and cameramen set up right in front of us; I'd never realised that to be on television required so many make-up fixes! As the tension built, the tv cameras and photographers kept turning back on where we were. As soon as the lens was on the supporters, they started dancing and singing as if a switch had just been flicked. I could either cling to my social awkwardness, not dance and sing, and look completely out of place, or I could throw my inhibitions to the wind and still look out of place. I choose the latter, partly because in that kind of atmosphere, you just have to let go. At one point, as I was absentmindedly looking around, I heard the umlungu shout again, only to see that I'd been umlungu-ed by a pitch-side umlungu photographer. This was confusing to all who had heard it and we had to laugh.

Maybe I was asking for trouble standing near these?

 When I had arrived, the stewards will diligently enforcing the ticketing system. As I had a R60, I was in the bottom section but by kickoff, it was highly dubious whether this had been uniformly enforced. For a sellout crowd, there were a number of empty seats in the top tier while people were cramming into the bottom tier. At so many of these occasion, the stewards are ineffective and standby. This isn't a criticism of the stewards as I'm not sure that they can do anything when faced with a swarm of supporters determined to go where they want to.

Gearing up for the big game
Standing right at the front, we were wedged in with limited ability to move. The aisles behind us had been filled with people so we at the front had little hope of getting back to get drinks. It was a hot day and many around me (including myself) were feeling the effects of the heat by half time. Some supporters started pleading with the pitch-side runners who were supplying drinks to the cameramen and television presenters to give them water. Many refused but a couple realised that it was a far from ideal situation and handed some bottles of water over. I for one was extremely grateful when I was given water as I was starting to feel the effects of the sun. A couple of rows behind me, someone had either collapsed or had fallen over and was not looking too good. Yet with so many people crammed into a small space, the stewards and security struggle to reach them. While lessons have been learned from the 2001 Ellis Park stadium disaster, there is still much to improve. Such crowd problems have the potential for some major issues, although on this day, nothing major happened. If they could do it during the World Cup, why can't domestic football effectively steward and police the local game. I'm not sure the political will is there.

Cramming into the bottom tier

Still, the carnival atmosphere that comes with derby day is an exciting one, and one that I've never experience back in the UK. I'm still learning the songs but at the very least I can play a vuvuzela. Those six weeks worth of trumpet lessons finally came in handy! A 0-0 draw was hardly the result that anyone wanted or that the hype around the game needed. A capacity FNB Stadium when a goal is scored is an electric place to be and I was sorely hoping to experience it once more. I think that the fans were robbed.

The game finished at 17:30 but I didn't get home until 20:30. I was stuck in my car for ages and spent two hours moving little more than twenty metres. When I finally was on my way home, I stopped off at a petrol station to get a much needed drink. Kitted out in my Chiefs gear, the pump attendants came over to talk to me. 

Them: Were you the umlungu at the game who was on the tv?

Me: Er, no hair and wearing sunglasses?

Them: Yes, that one.

Me: I guess that was me then.

Them: Pirates already have an umlungu. Now we (Chiefs) have one too! 

I drove the rest of the way home in quiet contemplation. I had had a similar conversation back in 2008 when Manchester United came over to play Chiefs and Pirates. In five years, has SA soccer fandom really changed that little, that the local game is still seen by most as a 'black' game?

*umlungu/ mlungu = white person

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