Kick Off

Where are the fans?

- The Editor, Zola Doda

Watching Premier Soccer League matches played at empty stadiums has been disappoint­ing to say the least considerin­g that finally, after two years, supporters are allowed to attend games.

For midweek matches that are played in the afternoon when people are still at work and students at school, it is understand­able when there are no fans at the stadiums.

But on weekends, there are no excuses at all, especially at this time of the season where teams are fighting for top eight places, CAF Champions League and CAF Confederat­ions Cup spots, as well as battling against relegation.

The attendance has been totally dismal, and this is something that the PSL and the clubs should be concerned about.

In the last two years we were all locked inside our homes to curb the spread of COVID-19 and followed our teams on TV while waiting in anticipati­on for the day when supporters and media alike would be allowed to go back. But football without supporters was still better than no football at all.

And when the South African government, SAFA and the PSL finally made the much-awaited decision that supporters can return to the stadiums with matches played at 50 percent capacity, it was a long overdue decision.

We were all excited and we expected available tickets to sell like hotcakes after sitting at home for two years.

But when it was time to go to the stadiums, most venues have been virtually empty. The only match that was well attended – perhaps above the required 50 percent capacity – was the league match between Kaizer Chiefs and Stellenbos­ch played in the Cape Winelands.

Supporters came out in numbers to support football more than their teams. It was great to see that and gave the match a ‘Soweto Derby’ atmosphere.

But sadly, most matches, including those of league champions Mamelodi Sundowns, have been played in front of empty stands.

If the PSL doesn’t address the matter with urgency, it will be difficult to get back to preCOVID-19 attendance figures. Even those figures were not a lot, but they were still better than what we are seeing now.

Perhaps Sundowns winning five league titles in a row, the MTN8 and reaching the Nedbank Cup final is making the league one-sided and supporters feel that their teams have nothing to compete for.

The quality of football has been on a decline for the last few years, long before COVID-19 hit our shores and perhaps it is only now that we are seeing the consequenc­es of that.

The two biggest clubs in terms of supporters, Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, have also not been winning trophies. Of course, it is not fair to put the blame at the doorstep of the biggest clubs – this is the League’s issue not just Chiefs’ and Pirates’ problem.

Before the new season starts in August, the PSL and other stakeholde­rs need to get together and have a serious conversati­on about how to bring back the excitement to the game.

We understand that local football business model is different from European teams who depend on selling match programs, merchandis­e and match tickets to sustain their business. But still supporters are the most important aspect football and without them our product is poorer.

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