Johannesburg - This article does not in any way defend unruly behaviour by fans. Violence in any form is abhorrent, particularly in sport – an activity from which humans are meant to derive pleasure
That having been said, there is a part of me that understands the behaviour of Kaizer Chiefs fans at Moses Mabhida Stadium last weekend.
For the record, Amakhosi’s 2-0 loss to Free State Stars in the Nedbank Cup semi-final may have been sweet news for those of us with superior taste and wisdom. But this lowly newspaperman found it difficult to join in the chorus of unmitigated condemnation of the pitch invasion – and the ugly scenes that followed. Note the word ‘unmitigated’.
Let me explain. In February last year, just a few months before the end of the 2016/17 season, my colleague – who is a Buccaneer fan – and I were in a Cape Town establishment, watching the Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates clash at Loftus Versfeld.
At some point, when things were not going the right way and the taunting by one heartless individual became too much to bear, we left the group. We went to a pub where we found British tourists watching an inconsequential English Premiership League game. What a relief!
We continued to follow the Loftus game on social media as goals rained into the Pirates net. At least we were far from the heartless taunts of that merciless man. When the sixth goal was scored and The Ghost invaded the pitch to stop the massacre, we both concurred that had that not happened, the score – and our pain – could easily have become a lot worse.
At an intellectual level we condemned the ugly scenes that brought the game of football – as well as the Skull and Crossbones – into disrepute. But at an emotional level we understood what those fans in the stands were feeling and what had driven them to that behaviour.
The 2016/17 season had been the most humiliating in Pirates’ recent history.
That humiliation was felt not by the players, coaches and management, but by the supporters who are deprived of happiness and subjected to barbs on buses, trains, coaches and at workplaces. Appeals to the club’s hierarchy fell on deaf ears and management continued as if it was business as usual.
“Aargh, what’s the big fuss? We’ll sort it out at the end of the season,” is what seemed to be the message from the top. Until that fateful day at Loftus, when the Pirates faithful took matters into their own hands.
A similar pattern has played itself out in Naturena.
It was very clear from the onset that despite Chiefs’ noble intention of showing faith in a black coach, Steve Komphela was not the guy for the job.
In his stints at Free State Stars and Maritzburg United, Komphela did not demonstrate that he was the kind of coach who could hold his own in title-chasing sides. He was no Pitso Mosimane.
Komphela’s first season at Chiefs proved that the doubters – who included the media, regular pundits and most importantly the fans – were correct.
Not only were the results not forthcoming but the football was uninventive. His predecessor may have played unentertaining football but at least he got results.
Komphela’s first season did not demonstrate that he was building up to something big in his second and third seasons.
The fans were asked to be patient.
Season two came and went and the trophy cabinet was bare. More patience was requested. Season three came and it was dire. After each abysmal performance the voices of the disgruntled fan base got louder.
They vented their frustration in supporters’ club meetings, on radio shows and social media.
The more militant ones threatened violence, with the odd missile or two being thrown in the direction of the coach as he went into the tunnel after giving his “relative theory of irrelevant bulldust” lecture to the SuperSport interviewers.
The Naturena bigwigs believed the fans could tolerate being disgraced week in, week out, and hold on until the end of the season. The optimism of the fans was also hyped up by the possibility of the Nedbank Cup being the balm for the hurt of the past three seasons.
This was not to be. It was not just the loss to Free State Stars and exiting the Nedbank Cup that incensed them. Chiefs were totally outplayed.
What happened last Saturday at Moses Mabhida Stadium – and indeed at Loftus last February – was the consequence of management losing touch with the fans.
Those people spend their hard-earned money on the kit and paraphernalia, the tickets, the lengthy journeys to away games and the food and accommodation. They invest their emotions and their being in the club.
An article on psychologicalscience.org quoted Indiana-University of Bloomington’s brain sciences expert Professor Edward Hirt, who has studied the psychology of sports fans, saying they see their favourite team as “an extension of self”.
“A huge part of who they are, where they derive a lot of their negative and positive effect, is from what their team is doing,” said Hart.
Premier Soccer League chairman Irvin Khoza went to great lengths this week to place the blame for last Saturday on the South African Police Service, accusing them of poor planning. He was dead wrong.
The SAPS does not police the pitch. They are not in every stand where the chairs were set alight by angry fans. The SAPS cannot prevent the outbreak of spontaneous anger. They can, however, contain or stop criminality and arrest hooligans.
The responsibility for dealing with South Africa’s unique form of hooliganism – in which fans turn on their own team and not on rival fans as elsewhere in the world – lies with football leaders.
Khoza and his colleagues must admit they have misjudged the balance of running a business over the bond between fan and club.
So in the rush to pass judgement on the aggrieved Amakhosi faithful by calling them thugs and hooligans, let’s apportion blame equitably and also put the suits who refused to hear their desperate cries in the dock.