S'Busiso Mseleku

Where is SA's "Soccer Mecca"?

2013-05-03 13:01
Sport24 columnist S'Busiso Mseleku (File)
England has Wembley Stadium as the spiritual home of their football. Brazil has the iconic Maracanã Stadium that is penciled in to host the final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

This role was played by the FNB Stadium that hoisted the opening match for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and it is here where Siphiwe Tshabalala scored that awesome goal in the opening match against Mexico that the world is still talking about.

It was here that Andres Iniesta broke many Dutch hearts on July 11, 2010 when he scored the solitary goal that confirmed Spain as world beaters.

When ground was broken for the construction of the FNB Stadium in 1986, Abdul Bhamjee, the man with the gift of the garb who was the in charge of spin doctoring for the National Soccer League (NSL, the Premier Soccer League (PSL) forerunner) told everybody who would listen “This is the home of South African soccer”.

To some this was good news but others, more especially Soweto residents, were a bit heartbroken as the new venue was to take away the mantle of “South African soccer Mecca” from the dilapidated Orlando Stadium at which many soccer battles had previously been fought and won.

Then in 1989, the first match, the Ohlsson’s Challenge Cup final won by Kaizer Chiefs over Moroka Swallows, was played to open the venue.

The South African Football Association (SAFA) and the NSL moved in as tenants and ran their offices there for years.

In fact, SAFA was forced by the renovations of 2009 and the building of the SAFA House, thanks to an advance from FIFA, to move from the stadium.

But alas, there have always been squabbles over the venue even with naming rights and there are still question marks on whether the venue is indeed a true home of South African soccer.

Some called it Soccer City from the onset, to the chagrin of the First National Bank who bankrolled the building to the last penny.

With the World Cup, FIFA being very strict on naming rights, it was agreed to call the Stadium Soccer City for the duration of their shindig.

First National Bank had to go to court to challenge Stadium Management, the company running the stadium now, to revert to the name FNB Stadium.

There have also been fights when soccer matches could not be played and had to be moved or played on an atrocious surface after music concerts rendered the pitch a cabbage patch.

Kaizer Chiefs, who are the main tenants, have been victims and found themselves having to utilise the Polokwane Peter Mokaba Stadium more and more for their home matches.

Now, SAFA has cried foul that the SA government must return the stadium to them as per agreement prior to the World Cup.

They claim they had plans to build more facilities such as a hotel and world-class training facilities for the national teams.

The question is: When will FNB Stadium become a real home of soccer and be owned by football?

But this leads to other questions such as: Will SAFA - given their history when it comes to money management - is able to make the venue financially viable?

A drive past SAFA House will show you that buses used by the 32 teams during the World Cup are still parked on the yard and the organisation has failed to dispatch them and at least recoup some money.

But the most pertinent question would be: Should government give the stadium to the football body, how would the R3.3 billion spent on the refurbishment of the venue in 2009 be recouped?

While South Africa needs to have a proper home of soccer as a lot of history has been made at the venue, these questions will need to be satisfactorily answered.

And then there will still be the name issue, will 94 736-seater eventually be permanently known as FNB, National or Soccer City?

For the record, the Maracanã is owned by the Rio de Janeiro State Government while Wembley is owned by the Football Association.

Which model will South Africa finally follow?

S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.

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.

Read more on:    safa  |  soccer

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