Bragging rights up for grabs in derby

The Soweto derby is living proof that football rivalry can transcend the ultimate goal of competing in a league: to be crowned champions at the end of the season.

Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs have no hope of winning the Premier Soccer League title, which is set to remain in Pretoria for the third year on the trot. Yet their showdown at Orlando Stadium on Saturday was sold out by Wednesday morning.

SuperSport may be the most consistent team of the past three years but unlike these no-hopers in the title race, they struggle to fill their home ground.

This has been, by all accounts, a crammed season, with too much football played over a short space of time. Even the most fervent supporter would be forgiven for losing interest this season. Efforts to wrap up the PSL early have had a negative effect on the game. The only consolation is that it has been for a good cause, as it will give Bafana Bafana more time to prepare for the World Cup.

With Pirates and Chiefs failing to arrest the dominance of Pretoria’s SuperSport and Mamelodi Sundowns, this has been a testing time for both teams. But it would appear the derby has not lost its appeal, despite plummeting standards on the field of play. The preliminary verdict must be a relief for both clubs. Fans’ interest in the derby has not diminished, even when the first leg, played last year, ended in a disappointing 00 draw.

Much of its enduring popularity, even in these dark days for these celebrated clubs, is because it has never been only about the three points at stake. The Soweto derby is about pride and bragging rights. It is a battle that highlights the historic rivalry between the biggest sets of fans in the country.

Admittedly, the derby has lost the star quality of yesteryear, when it was illuminated by players such as Doctor Khumalo, Ace Ntsoelengoe, Jerry Sikhosana, Ace Khuse, Mark Fish, Sugar Muguyo and Fani Madida.

However, some inspiring individual displays from both camps suggest that this encounter will be better than last year’s damp squib.

The Happy People’s talisman, Teko Modise, goalkeeper Moneeb Josephs and Gert Schalkwyk are all in reasonably good form. The Amakhosi can look forward to the prospect of Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane as well as young Knowledge Musona seeing them past their perennial enemies in this 151st Battle of Soweto.