George Dearnaley

Siwelele make Santana smile

2008-10-16 13:12
Sport24 columnist George Dearnaley (File)
George Dearnaley

I travelled to Bloemfontein for the midweek Bafana v Ghana friendly... all under the guise of some important business meetings. It was my first trip back to Bloem in nine years and to be honest it doesn’t look like much has changed! I landed in the middle of a heat wave and the dry air takes minutes to start working its magic on your lips and skin.

It’s impossible to get lost in Bloemfontein, so I did my best and eventually had to ask a police officer in a van if he could point me in the right direction. The smiling officer of the law asked me to follow him, and changed direction and drove to the opposite end of Bloem (maximum five minute drive) and straight to my destination! And he was smiling… Maybe some things have changed.

I spent the next few hours presenting to the team at Die Volksblad and then headed off to ‘The Waterfront’ for a late lunch. They really do have a Waterfront in Bloem, not quite on the same grand scale as Cape Town, but decent enough, and just in the background of the centre were the stadium lights and stands that are being renovated ahead of the Confederations Cup next year.

Sitting down and checking out the locals, I was very aware of the number of soccer jerseys floating around. There were a few Bafana jerseys here and there, and a lot of Bloem Celtic jerseys and this should have given me a clue that they take their soccer quite seriously in these parts.

After checking in to my hotel and giving a few words of advice to Matthew Booth, Benni McCarthy, Bryce Moon, Lance Davids and Brian Baloyi, I headed off back to the ‘Waterfront’ to meet up with the Volksblad team. 

Now in football, if you tell people to meet at 18:30 it translates into 18:30 for 19:00-ish but again I was surprised to find everyone waiting for me even though I was five minutes early. Most of the team were kitted out in their Bafana jerseys and we even had a Chelsea fan among us – the thing you must understand is that the majority of the team were white Afrikaans women – and so the group attracted a fair share of attention from other soccer fans starting to head towards the stadium.

Lost direction

Sidwell, also known as Sidwelele, led us through the stadium to our seats on the halfway line on the upper stand – well positioned for watching the game. There was a decent attendance considering half the stadium is a construction site, but there was an even better atmosphere. The Celtic supporters behind the one goal were in full voice before the game started and it is only when you are actually in the stadium that you realise how passionate these people are about their football.

The game itself had its moments – Bafana started off well, lost direction, got punished for a bad mistake, responded very quickly and for the majority of the match, dictated the play. In the moments when the game drifted off to sleep, the 'Siwelele' raised their voices (and their vuvuzelas) and also raised the tempo of the match. Players respond to atmosphere. The game livened up and Teko Modise and Simphiwe Tshabalala both seemed to relish the crowd’s participation. Sometimes they overdid it with their tricks, but they kept the crowd entertained when they needed to.

I can honestly say that things have changed in Bloemfontein. It is now home of the best, most passionate local soccer supporters! This wasn’t always the case. The other host cities in SA can learn something from these home fans. Ultimately fans have no control of what happens on the field by way of tactics or team selection, but when you have a big home crowd who are singing and creating an unbelievable atmosphere, this definitely gives the home team a boost. Great home support can have an influence on what happens on the field.


The Bafana crew missed a great PR opportunity at the end of the game. The Siwelele were calling coach Joel Santana over towards them and it would have done him the world of good to walk over to that part of the field where he would have received their applause. Perhaps he is not yet sure of how many people are actually behind him, but if he keeps winning, he will win them all over.

It was the best local match atmosphere I have been a part of since the 1997 qualifying match against Congo that sent Bafana to France 1998. The Volksblad team were beaming – many of them making their debut at a soccer match – and a winning debut is a great start! 

Video footage of the Siwelele should be screened all over the country as a tutorial on how to get behind your team, in good times and in bad.

I hope it doesn’t take me another nine years before I am back in Bloem and a part of the most passionate soccer fans in SA.

George is Media24's Mr Soccer.

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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