Gone are the days when Bafana was the hottest ticket in any city they travelled to.
To make a blanket statement and say that South Africa is not a football nation would not be exaggerating but maybe a tad misleading.
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Having said that, my last two trips to Durban have got me questioning if we are still a football-mad loving nation or are we fascinated with big events.
I witnessed the MTN8 final between eventual champions Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns last month in front of a packed Moses Mabhida Stadium.
To my surprise, Bafana Bafana’s game against Benin attracted a decent crowd but it’s a recurring theme that whenever the national team plays, the public would rather watch the game on TV and be quick to criticize on social media about the poor attendance.
Gone are the days when Bafana was the hottest ticket in any city they travelled to. In fact, it’s a norm now that players have to plead with the public to come and watch them play.
I spoke to legendary Bafana striker Shaun Bartlett who is pained by the lack of support adding that during his playing days, one of their secret weapons was playing in front of packed venues. Bartlett is part of the class of the ’96 AFCON winning team.
Recently, Bafana were trending ahead of the international friendly against the Democratic Republic of Congo played at Orlando Stadium. Armchair critics who would rather take to social media than attend matches were at it again after the Congolese had more support in Soweto than South Africa.
Maybe the current crop of players are victims of past failures but I think this group under Hugo Boss deserve a bit more respect than the public is willing to admit. They have qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations and they were on a 12-match unbeaten run before coming unstuck against Rwanda on Tuesday.
In this run, there were wins against 2022 FIFA World Cup semi finalists Morocco and a credible away draw to the mighty Ivory Coast.
The excuse that Bafana are useless can longer hold. Apart from the blip in Rwanda, there’s no reason why fans should be staying away or maybe we should accept that football is perhaps no longer the number sport in the country and other competing interests have caught up with the beautiful game.
It must also be said that the national team is perhaps poorly marketed and hence there’s a disconnect between the fans and players. I spoke to a number of high level officials while I was in Durban and the rhetoric is that there’s no appetite for Bafana games and it’s not hard to disagree.
Bafana arrived in the KwaZulu-Natal province on the eve of the game and it got me thinking why didn’t they touch down earlier in the week and do activations leading up to the game. That would have certainly helped push ticket sales. Organisers didn’t anticipate more than 15 000 fans to attend the game.
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Errol Madlala, SAFA’s newly-appointed Commercial and Marketing Manager has a big job on his hands because it’s becoming embarrassing to say the least that a national team can’t fill up a stadium.
The Soweto derby is the only game that is almost guaranteed to sell-out no matter how poor the form of both Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates are. It goes back to my point that South Africans are mostly driven by the lure of big events and not necessarily the football itself.