M United: From Fawlty Tow­ers to a fortress

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - Dur­ban Lungani Zama

WHEN you walk into the Harry Gwala Sta­dium, the first thing that stands out is the fact that it is still not a proper sta­dium. Only the main grand­stand has a roof, while the spa­ces be­hind both goal­posts still stand empty, wait­ing for a bit of con­crete and a lot of plas­tic seats.

De­spite all these el­e­ments of the Fawlty Tow­ers, the venue is home to the fourth-placed team in the league, and cup fi­nal­ists to boot.

Some­how, Mar­itzburg United have found a way to make their half-baked sta­dium a fortress, a caul­dron of noise greet­ing ev­ery vis­i­tor.

“That would be my num­ber one pri­or­ity,” club chair­man Fa­rook Kado­dia, pic­tured. says, look­ing out at the still to be com­pleted struc­ture.

“If we could fin­ish this sta­dium, we could have a ca­pac­ity of around 18000 peo­ple here, and that would make a huge dif­fer­ence. Even from a com­mer­cial per­spec­tive, in­vest­ing in a place with a proper sta­dium is far more ap­peal­ing to po­ten­tial part­ners.

The sta­dium was built as a warm-up or train­ing venue for the 2010 World Cup, but it was never fully done. The money for that project con­ve­niently ran out, and the stamina to pur­sue the trail fiz­zled out with the end of the World Cup.

That said, Kado­dia is very pleased that his side now have a train­ing ground next to their home ground, af­ter years of no­madic ex­is­tence - go­ing to school grounds and coun­cil fa­cil­i­ties.

“We are very ap­pre­cia­tive of the ath­let­ics sta­dium, with our train­ing fa­cil­ity. It has made a huge dif­fer­ence to our oper­a­tion. The next goal, as I said, is the sta­dium be­ing com­pleted.”

But Kado­dia also has other dreams for the club he has backed for 15 years. Even now, in the midst of their best sea­son, United still don’t have the spon­sors that should be flock­ing to a team that is up­wardly mo­bile. “You would hope that the num­ber of fans we have been at­tract­ing this sea­son would en­cour­age cor­po­rates to get be­hind us. When you look at the city of Mar­itzburg, we pro­vide the bulk of sport­ing events over the course of a year. You would like to see more cor­po­rate sup­port, be­cause the returns could re­ally be there.”

Kado­dia also looked at the sup­port that his club gets from the city, and won­dered if hav­ing three teams in the top nine of the league would con­vince the KZN govern­ment to utilise more funds to back the sport.

As it stands, big teams like Kaizer Chiefs are still en­joy­ing more sup­port from lo­cal govern­ment than home-grown teams, but the fan base that United is cre­at­ing may hope­fully change that nar­ra­tive.

Fri­day nights at Harry Gwala Sta­dium have be­come a phe­nom­e­non in Mar­itzburg, and many lo­cals have shed their pop­u­lar ‘big team’ replica shirts, and swapped them for the blue and white stripes of ‘the Team of Choice’.

To that end, Kado­dia has laid on 12 buses to take sup­port­ers on an epic road-trip to Cape Town for the Ned­bank Cup fi­nal on Satur­day.

The buses will leave to­mor­row morn­ing, ar­riv­ing in Cape Town the next day, be­fore leav­ing on Satur­day night, and re­turn­ing home on Sun­day.

The seats were snapped up in a hurry, a sure sign that the city wants to be there to wit­ness his­tory. “The buses were the least we could do. Our fans have been amaz­ing, and we hope to re­ward them with a vic­tory on Satur­day. That would be the per­fect end to what has been a very sat­is­fy­ing sea­son,” Kado­dia en­thused.

It has been a long road, and it is still un­der con­struc­tion, but Mar­itzburg United have turned a cor­ner in their pur­suit for foot­balling prow­ess.

Kado­dia and his fam­ily have watched on and in­vested heav­ily over the years, and they too will have their day in the sun come Satur­day.

“I will go to the fi­nal on Satur­day, but I have to keep work­ing on Fri­day,” he quipped.

“It is hard work main­tain­ing a football club,” he chuck­led, walk­ing back up the tun­nel be­neath the stand with a roof, which has seen much joy for his side this sea­son.

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