It is not my favourite style to write a column on an event that has already passed.
I prefer writing about future events or looking forward rather than backwards.
However, I feel an unusual urge to have a say about the Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates played last Saturday.
This is not only the biggest football match in this country but actually the biggest sporting event as it is the only one that usually manages to fill up the 94 000-seater FNB Stadium.
There were even spectator packages that ranged between R900-R2 000 per person. For a game whose normal ticket costs a mere R40, that’s pretty steep, hence I ask if it’s not a scam.
My close scrutiny of the match tells me that it is rapidly losing its shine and might soon turn out to be just an ordinary fixture that might soon be watched by the average crowd we see week in and week in South African football.
The biggest culprits in the watering down of the famous Soweto derby are players themselves.
Gone is the bitter rivalry of the seventies, eighties and nineties where both sets of players went out to show who is boss.
Since the first derby in 1970, there has always been interesting duels pitting certain types of players against each other such as a striker who will make sure that he scores against a certain goalkeeper.
Think McDonald “Rhee” Sikhosana (Pirates striker) v Joseph “Banks” Sethlodi (Chiefs goalkeeper), the legendary middle-of- the-park Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe v Jomo “troublemaker” Sono battles.
In the nineties there was the Brian “Spiderman” Baloyi against Jerry “Legs of Thunder” Skhosana rivalry that saw the striker once score four goals against the agile and then feared goal-minder in a single match.
Today’s derby lacks that spark.
Even in trying to build it up in the media these days, one struggles to come up with names of players who can give the crowd that kind of duel that will go down in history books and be told for generations to come.
Today’s players - belonging to the two clubs - seem to lack that enthusiasm, passion and never-say-die attitude from their predecessors of years gone by.
The goalless draws that have become the order of the day, including the one last Saturday, are contributing in taking the shine off the Soweto derby.
In those years, when a pick team which later became the SA Black XI before becoming the national senior men’s football team - Bafana Bafana of today - would be dominated by players from the two clubs.
I still remember somewhere in the mid-seventies when the then coach, whose name escapes me now, selected an SA Black XI squad with nine players from Pirates and eight from Kaizer Chiefs with a sprinkling of others such as Lucas “Masterpieces” Moripe, Patrick “LTD” Molala (both of Pretoria Bantu Callies) and Cedric “Sugar Ray” Xulu from AmaZulu.
There was an outcry from smaller teams but the decision stayed because the two clubs boasted the cream of the crop then.
Not these days.
Fast forward to 2017 and you will find that the last squad Stuart Baxter selected for the 2018 World Cup qualifying match against Burkina Faso had only Itumeleng Khune of Chiefs and no player from Pirates.
As one scribe pointed out that when the two clubs sneeze, the whole South African football scene catches cold, it is indicative of our national teams’ performances.
So at this stage, all that still qualifies Pirates and Chiefs to be called giants is the big crowds they still pull to their matches (which might soon change) plus the fact that they are the best sponsored clubs in the PSL.
Beyond that, there is just an empty shell which risks to be soon exposed for what it is which might spell the death of the Soweto derby as we know it ... unless something major is done to remedy the current situation and save this prestigious fixture from following the Dodo.
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 over 30 years. He is currently
City Press Sports Editor.
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