A derby of many goals
A derby of many goals: that is what the fans deserve when Chiefs and Pirates meet at the FNB Stadium on Saturday. A derby of many goals: that is what the biggest clash in South African football represents for the owners, fans and sponsors of these two teams.
Apart from the result, this game is about bragging rights, long-term growth, dominance and entrenching popularity here and across the continent.
First, the many goals for the fans.
One of the most irritating statistics for Kaizer Chiefs fans to bear is that one of their two worst defeats came at the hands of the old foe in the form of a 5-1 defeat by Pirates.
There must be times when they feel that Chiefs can go out and play against whichever team is rooted to the bottom of the lower tier Mvela Golden League and roll over to be beaten by a larger margin, just to wipe off the statistic. However, the team that currently props the Mvela league is also called Pirates, though they hail from Louisvale in the Northern Cape.
Apart from the historic November 1989 defeat, Pirates can lay claim to holding the upper hand on high scoring victories over the last decade-and-a-half. There was the Jerry Skosana show in the now defunct Bob Save Super Bowl, an embarrassing 4-1 defeat. Then there was the late Lesley Manyathela brace to secure a 3-0 victory in the 2001/02 season, the highest scoring victory for either side since the formation of the PSL. The only other high-scoring affair between the sides in the PSL era was a 2-2 draw in the 1999/00 season.
Victory for Chiefs in this contest will make them equal to Pirates on 52 points with a game in hand and four games to play. So, whether Chiefs turn the tables or Pirates re-ignite a stuttering campaign, the victor has to prevail convincingly.
Yet, how we got to this point, one we never imagined we could find ourselves in when Pirates lead was in double digits and Chiefs was leaking points, is down to Pirates season of two halves.
If Chiefs overhaul Pirates’ lead and go on to win the league, they will have to confer upon Supersports United coach Pitso Mosimane the Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe, or whatever equivalent they have for the ANC’s highest honour for heroism. For it was Mosimane who struck the first telling blow to Pirates’ league campaign with a dramatic, come from behind 4-3 victory. It was Pirates’ first in the league and brought to an end a 17-game unbeaten run, but also caused seismic tremors that gradually undermined confidence. In subsequent games, like a 1-1 draw against Swallows, secured with a late equaliser from Phumudzo Manenzhe, psychological scars were evident. Events such as the 6-0 victory over Ajax in the first round now seem like the Northern Lights: a rare and spectacular event witnessed once in a generation.
Since the Supersport defeat, Celtic, a mysterious tummy bug, Sundowns and Santos have claimed the buccaneers’ scalp in the league while Dynamos have booted them out of the Absa Cup, though Pirates recent cup history will show that feat as being remarkable, but not entirely unique.
The importance of this match also presents a momentous opportunity for a young player to show himself as destined for greatness. Doctor Khumalo, Lesley Manyanthela and Jabu Pule are examples of players who have set the derbies alight and gone on to bigger things. Though in Pule’s case, whether that promise will be fulfilled remains in the balance.
Emmanuel “Scara” Ngobese for Chiefs and a clutch of youngsters who include Jimmy Tau, Lebohang Mokoena, Gift Leremi and Manenzhe for Pirates can seize the moment. Steve Lekoelea can also continue his revival and resuscitate his international career with a match-winning performance.
Off the pitch, the interest in this fixture goes well beyond Saturday. Both teams need to adjust to changes in people’s living standards, technology and the popularity of a medium such as DVDs to think of ways to exploit their brand popularity. They also need to ensure that this is the biggest fixture, not just now, but a decade from now. In an era where MTN Soccerzone is seen across the continent, they will also need to find ways to grow their fan base.
Chiefs will look to refine and maintain their glamour image and gleaming commercial success coupled with unmatched long-term knockout cup achievement.
Pirates on the other hand, possess the mystic allure of a venerable institution. Their 1995 Champion’s league victory also represents the pinnacle of accomplishment in South African football. That is why Chiefs decision this week to withdraw from CAF competition citing a congested fixture list cannot possibly be in their long-term interests. A congested fixture list lasts for six weeks. The possible three-year ban will take a much longer time to recover from.
Most importantly, without continental football, with all its ills, domestic league victories, no matter how dramatic, will become irrelevant. Not now, but certainly in the years ahead.