George Dearnaley

Kaizer Chiefs a fading giant

2008-11-20 12:57
Sport24 columnist George Dearnaley (File)
George Dearnaley

I watched the recent Soweto derby, still the biggest match on the local calendar no matter where these teams are positioned on the log table.

I heard a story told by some die-hard supporters that almost 80% of all local soccer fans support either Chiefs or Pirates and that the other 20% wish they did! I’ve been to my share of Soweto derbies and I’ve played in Durban and Cape derbies and there is nothing in South African soccer that compares to the atmosphere, the rivalry and the passion that the Soweto derby invokes among local supporters.

I would argue that it is as big a match as the European derbies in Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester and on a par with the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona. It doesn’t have the political history of the Real-Barca match or the religious edge that the Glasgow derby has, but for sheer size and interest across the country, it might even be bigger than the Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester derbies.

The Soweto derby doesn’t have the violence associated with some of the derbies of South America or Eastern Europe but it ranks up there with the biggest in the world because of the number of supporters affected by the result. 

The problem for me is that in all these other top derbies often one of these clubs - and in some cases both of them - are title contenders.  They are championship teams and so the derby has an edge in that a result for one team could see them sneak ahead in the race for honours, or if the underdog gets a result, it could give the edge to one of the other top teams and destroy the chances for their bitter rivals.

But in South Africa it has been so long since both teams were fighting for honours that the impact of the result is more about pride and less about glory. Pirates have at least been champions of Africa (12 years ago!) and they have tasted league success more recently than Chiefs with both Gordon Igesund and Roy Barretto winning the league in the last eight years. Chiefs have managed to win a few cup competitions along the way but they have lost their way when it comes to contending for the league title - and that is the honour that defines the best team in the country.

Synonymous with glory

Chiefs are synonymous with glory and are known as the Phefeni Glamour boys, reference to the suburb of Soweto where the club has its roots. Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, the team was full of stars, attracting all the best talent in the country and their list of trophies during this time was the envy of every other team. But the mid-90s heralded a wave of sponsorship that brought money into the game so that some clubs could compete in the transfer market with the mighty Amakhosi and suddenly not everyone wanted to play for them.

Pirates were the first to go on a spending spree signing Gavin Lane from Blackpool, Mark Fish and Helman Mkhalele from Cosmos, Edward Motale and John Moeti from Dynamos and suddenly they had a team that won the league and were crowned African Champions.

Sundowns were the next team spending some money and their triple league success in the late 90s proved they were the team to beat.  New teams like Ajax and SuperSport worked hard at developing talent to compete with the rich clubs and yet Chiefs seem to have stalled in between both options.

They have never gone on a spending spree and they can hardly claim to have developed any unbelievable talent. They have the facilities, the history, the pedigree, the support and most importantly the finance behind them to rise to the top in a very quick space of time and yet…

Make some changes

It was an honour to play against Chiefs knowing you were facing the best team in the country. A goal against Chiefs was the crowning glory for a player in the late 80s or early 90s. I was very fortunate to score against them a few times including the winner in the 1992 Coke Cup final - a goal that Chiefs fans remind me of on a weekly basis - and yet only 16 years later a new generation of South African soccer players do not have that same respect or honour for them because they do not command that respect anymore. They are a giant in South African football, but I fear they are fading and hanging on to past glories. 

It is time for Kaizer Chiefs to make some changes to how they do business on the field and challenge for honours on all fronts so that the Soweto derby, the biggest match in South African soccer, can gain the importance it once commanded. The legions of faithful ‘Khosi-4-Life’ followers who worship the gold and black jersey demand nothing less.

(Disclaimer: George is not interested in the Chiefs’ coaching job, is not telling anyone how to do their job, does not want to argue with Jessica or Bobby and is an AmaZulu supporter!)

George is Media24's Soccer Business Manager - and Manchester United's greatest supporter.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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With the Absa Premiership in full swing, who will be crowned champions when all is said and done? Will Mamelodi Sundowns defend their title? Or can Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates or Bidvest Wits mount a serious challenge? Stay glued to Sport24 to find out!

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