South African football followers cannot get enough of Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates with the third meeting of a young season this weekend attracting a sell-out 78 000 crowd.
Pirates defeated their 41-year rivals 1-0 and on penalties after a 0-0 draw in pre-season tournaments and they clash again on September 17 in the Premiership, which the Buccaneers won last season on the final day.
Some South Africans pundits had wondered if familiarity would breed contempt for the Soweto derby, which dates back to 1970 when a breakaway group from Pirates formed Chiefs.
But a capacity crowd this Saturday for the $1.1-million winners-take-all Top 8 Cup final at Soccer City in Soweto, where Spain defeated The Netherlands last year to raise the World Cup, proves otherwise.
Senior Johannesburg Star football writer Jonty Mark says it is a credit to both clubs that they have developed the rivalry into the biggest sporting event on a busy national calendar.
“If there is one football fixture every South African football fan wants to attend it is Chiefs versus Pirates. Whether the obstacle is financial or geographical, a way will be found to get to the game.”
In it together
The South African domestic football highlight has become a must-attend event with politicians and business leaders filling VIP seats while some low paid workers save for months to buy a five-dollar budget ticket.
An ever-increasing female turn-out for the derby adds considerable glamour and they wave excitedly and blow kisses when shown on the big screen at the largest capacity sport stadium on the continent.
Male and female supporters of all ages dress lavishly in the colours worn by the stars they adore with backers of Chiefs donning black and gold while Pirates fans come in black and white.
Unlike some countries where bitter football rivalries demand segregation of supporters with hundreds of police in between, the days of troublesome South African derbies are long gone.
Spectators mix freely and when the latest episode in one of the great African sporting rivalries is over, they leave the stadium together and share trains, minibus taxis and cars.
The problem of too many people turning up for the fixture has been resolved by the Premier Soccer League turning it into an all-ticket affair with none sold on the day of the match.
There has also been a small but consistent increase in the turn out of white people — who traditionally prefer rugby union and cricket with black fans favouring football — after catching the “bug” during the 2010 World Cup.
Pirates won the Top 8, a knockout competition for the top eight finishers in the previous national championship, last year along with the league and FA Cup while Chiefs lifted the League Cup for a Soweto clean sweep.
There are no favourites in Soweto derbies, which often deliver tense, tight, low-scoring games with most of the play in midfield, although Chiefs can draw comfort from a six-year unbeaten record in cup finals. — AFP