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NKARENG MATSHE | Our ‘bunch of winners’ deserve far better support

It is a shame that a much-improved Bafana are playing in front of empty stands

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
DR Congo fans during the international friendly match between South Africa and DR Congo at Orlando Stadium on September 12, 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
DR Congo fans during the international friendly match between South Africa and DR Congo at Orlando Stadium on September 12, 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Lefty Shivambu

Ronwen Williams’s plea for Bafana Bafana to get the backing they deserve is a legitimate cry, which has exposed how some readily use our national team as a source of mockery but could never bother to acknowledge their immense improvement.

Before Bafana took on Namibia and DR Congo in international friendlies, Williams decried the fact that Bafana got regularly lampooned for underperformance, yet “when we do well there’s no noise”. This is true because we once heard a sports minister calling them “a bunch of losers”, a derogatory phrase that some resort to even to this day.

Facts back Williams’s assertion that Bafana have silently made progress under Hugo Broos, coming within one goal of making the 2022 World Cup final qualifying phase, and now having secured a ticket to next year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals in Ivory Coast.

Bafana have enjoyed an unbeaten record at home under Broos and, even more impressively, have lost just three times under the Belgian, and that was against top teams in Ghana, Morocco and France.

But as Williams bemoaned, they entered an empty Orlando Stadium to face opposition this week – “it’s as if we are in the Covid era”, the Mamelodi Sundowns keeper had said – with fans largely staying away and offering a myriad of excuses instead.

Some of those excuses are valid – such as non-existent marketing by Safa. Admittedly, Broos didn’t help matters with his pre-match view regarding Kaizer Chiefs players – an ill-thought comment, which could well have alienated the biggest sporting support base in the country. But it would be dishonest to blame Bafana’s lack of support on the coach.

I attended a friendly between SA and Liberia at FNB Stadium last September, which marked Themba Zwane’s return to the national team. It was an impressive showing by our team, who won 4-0 – but there must have been fewer than 500 people in the 90,000-seat venue. Mind you, this was on a Saturday, so the explanation that this week’s match against DRC had an awkward 5pm midweek kickoff doesn’t wash. Attendance was similarly poor in last Saturday's match against Namibia.

A solution that could lead to massive crowd improvement may be to take the games away from Johannesburg, a venue which is not short of counter-attractions and, which frankly, has a worryingly dwindling local football support base.  

Safa’s explanation that it would require financial assistance from municipalities to help co-host national team events is also another blip. The association has long suffered from financial mismanagement and even if it were to strike a deal with willing local governments to stage international games, the money would somehow not go towards the intended goal. You cannot tell me no South African city would have wanted to collaborate in hosting Banyana Banyana’s World Cup send off, so much so that Safa saw fit to stage their match at the inadequate Tsakane Stadium. This was just the usual incompetence prevalent at Safa House.

It all boils down to poor planning and execution by a clueless management, which is more obsessed with a bloated executive that draws handsome honorarium. Just halving the Safa executive could go a long way in enabling them to hire stadiums outside Joburg.

I agree with Williams that Bafana should not be playing in front of poor home crowds – and now worse, outnumbered by opposition as was the case with DRC fans this week – when they have made such giant strides. The 2026 World Cup qualifiers kick off in November and Bafana will need a nation that’s fully behind them, not one that waits with bated breath for failure, and then falls on them like a ton of bricks.

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