The recent Soweto Derby left so much to be desired, if we are to be brutally honest about the performance we witnessed on the field of play. The football on display on the day went a long way in giving credence to the notion, held by many, that this fixture is only big and exciting on the stands, courtesy of the supporters, rather than on the field.
People who believe the Soweto Derby is all hype and nothing to write home about continue to tell everyone who cares to listen, “Told you so!” The last derby delivered very little to build an argument for the biggest game in the local football calendar. There was very little to write home about! Take the world-class Yusuf Maart goal out of the game and you will be scratching your head trying to remember anything else exciting. What happened to entertaining the supporters who travelled the length and breadth of the country to be part of this prestigious game? What happened to giving them something to take home with, showing appreciation and giving them a reason to come back for more? A game of that magnitude has always been a benchmark for South African football. This is a game that even non-Pirates-Chiefs supporters always look forward to because it is one of a kind. This is one game that brings the whole country and parts of the continent to a standstill, but once the interest wanes, because of lack of entertainment, then regaining people’s attention can be mission impossible!
We have to be honest with ourselves and admit that this game has not really lived up to expectations for some time now. It continues to flatter to deceive! Remember when everyone looked forward to certain key battles in the Soweto Derby? Jerry Sikhosana v Brian Baloyi, Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Willard Katsande v Andile Jali and Oupa Manyisa, Lebohang Mokoena v Cyril Nzama, Knowledge Musona v Lucky Lekgwathi and so many other interesting and personal battles that set the scene and gave people something to look forward to. Individual brilliance from Teko Modise, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Thembinkosi Lorch, Daine Klate, Bernard Parker, Siyabonga Nomvethe, Tebogo Moloi, Ace Khuse, Ace Ntsoelengoe, Jomo Sono, Doctor Khumalo, Dennis Lota, Pollen Ndlanya, Steve Lekoelea, Benedict Vilakazi, Jabu (Pule) Mahlangu and a litany of other individuals who were a thorn in the opposition team and turned the game on its head, giving their passionate supporters something to cherish and the opposition supporters something to think about.
Slowly but surely, the days of Lorch being a thorn in the opposition’s flesh in the derby are fading away. These are the kinds of players that we, until recently, were always eager to see what they have in store for us in the derby because they took the game personal. They always delivered and made it a point that the opposition felt their presence and the last thing they wanted to see was to lose this game. These are the players that knew what it meant to don one of the two Soweto giants’ jerseys and what it meant to secure the bragging rights for their respective supporters. These are the players that wouldn’t freeze when the moment of truth arrived – instead, they always looked forward to it and thrived on the pressure that comes with a game of this magnitude. These are the players that would sacrifice themselves for their team and supporters, putting everyone on their shoulders to carry them through to victory, sometimes singlehandedly. These are the kinds of players who understood the importance of hurting the opposition/archrival and sending their own supporters into seventh heaven. These are the players who always had something special in store for their supporters, something they would still talk about days, weeks or even months after the game. That’s all the passionate football supporters ask and if given, it is reason enough for them to come back the next game.
If you look at the recent Soweto derby clashes, there’s very little to write home about. For instance, without Maart’s spectacular goal in the last derby, what can you really shout about? Tactical discipline aside, there’s always individual brilliance from the players even if the coaches are to be accused of stifling their players. There is an unwritten law to entertain the supporters in this game. Thabo Rakhale or the late Scara Ngobese are just two names that come to mind. Both sets of players need to show up for this derby and revive this sleeping giant of a fixture of South African football. That’s the only way to set this clash apart from any other game in the league, making sure that even players from other teams dream of being part of it. Maybe playing the second derby in two weeks in the Carling Black Label Cup is just the catalyst this game needed. Maybe this will be the turning point that will remind everyone what these two teams are all about! It is all up to the players to deliver because their supporters will certainly roll the carpet for the two teams. They will be out in their numbers to rally behind their teams, hoping that something special will come out of this game. They’ve been hoping for so long and it is slowly becoming akin to flogging a dead horse!
If you look at the Tshwane Derby between Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United, whether we want to admit it or not, there’s been more excitement in that game than we’ve experienced in the Soweto Derby in recent years! You are guaranteed goals in Tshwane, you are guaranteed an open and entertaining game with both sets of players giving it their all. Even if Sundowns have been dominant, the game is never boring and always has something to talk about. No one plays not to lose and it is clear to see that the players know exactly what’s expected of them. The Tshwane Derby is slowly taking over from the Soweto Derby, except of course in the stands where the two games’ turnout is incomparable. To think the last Soweto Derby was the first with the supporters back in the stadium since the COVID-19 outbreak and it had more excitement in the stands than on the field is just unfortunate. The supporters, as usual, played their part and showed up in numbers, anticipating scintillating football with goals but were almost treated to an underwhelming goalless draw.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to what the Soweto Derby has become, but it is time for players to show up and give the supporters what they want. We need to see magic, skill, flair, goals and loads of entertainment this Saturday. Sundowns and AmaZulu FC will deliver and we expect the same from the one game that almost three quarters of the country are looking forward to. The Soweto Derby will always remain a window through which the rest of the world views South African football. If it continues to be a boring affair, then it is not a good advertisement for domestic football. It is about time something is done and maybe it is time the two teams call their legends and provide them with an opportunity to address the players ahead of this game so that they can share their experiences and words of wisdom. The Soweto Derby isn’t just like any other game, it needs special players with special qualities. This game isn’t for everyone. That’s why some players never get out of their second gear in this clash because of the pressure that comes with it. Maybe spending time with those who paved the way for them will see the current players get through the current psychological barriers.
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