A derby whose star refuses to wane
By Bakang Mhaladi
JOHANNESBURG – Two fans clad in the black and white of Orlando Pirates and the gold and black of Kaizer Chiefs, walk briskly as they enter the giant FNB Stadium for another edition of the Soweto derby.
Vuvuzelas in hand, the fans are in a jovial atmosphere, a sharp departure from the tempestuous derbies of old where blood was shed and the rivalry, brutally emphasized.
Today, as the teams emerge from the dugout to a deafening applause, the fans sit side by side despite the existing rivalry between South Africa’s most successful sides.
On a cold, blustery July afternoon in Soweto, thousands flock into the FNB Stadium for the seventh edition of the Carling Black Label Cup.
Busloads of supporters from neighbouring Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe deposit fans at a stadium famous for hosting the opening and closing matches of the 2010 World Cup, the first on African soil.
The derby used to attract mostly local fans, but rated at number 31 in
the list of the World’s famous derbies, the match has grown in stature and draws supporters from across the region.
Over 94,000 fans were packed at the calabash shaped stadium last Saturday, with hundred others trying to force their way in leading to the loss of two lives, and dozen other people injured.
It is a derby that has had a fair share of controversy, particularly after 42 lives were lost in 2001 at the Ellis Park as fans tried to force their way in.
But since the Ellis Park disaster, the derby has largely been incident free, a key ingredient in attracting fans from across the region.
Carling Black Label has taken advantage of the derby’s rising star to spread its popularity within the region and beyond.
The organisation has been top notch, matching standards elsewhere in advanced countries such as Europe.
But as the derby continues to enjoy unparalleled support throughout the region, the death of two fans last Saturday puts a slight dent on South Africa’s biggest fixture. The match proceeded despite the deaths, with organizers saying stopping the match would have caused panic and may be even a bigger stampede.
Both clubs’ chairpersons, Irvin Khoza and Kaizer Motaung have called for a swift investigation into the death of the two fans.
Despite the tragic events, the two teams again dished exciting football, with crunching tackles which usually punctuate a derby.
Chiefs made the early attacks and were duly rewarded when Bernard Parker emerged at the end of a flowing moving to apply the gloss to live wire, Gustavo Paez’s pass.
The Venezuelan, one of the many foreign players who feature for the two teams, was a constant menace to the Pirates defense.
The Buccaneers were the more inquisitive side in the second half, but Parker’s strike was enough to hand chiefs the pre-season cup.
At the end of the 90 minutes, away from the tragedy, the derby’s popularity continued to be enhanced with few peers in the region, although the stampede would cause what was becoming a fading headache for the organisers.