Flawed format won’t dampen buzz of Soweto derby

The sold-out Carling Black Label Cup at the FNB Stadium on Saturday between traditional Soweto rivals Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs brings back those halcyon days of the Telkom Charity Spectacular, when four instead of two teams would be contesting the season opener.

Back in the day, the country would be involved in voting telephonically for the four teams that would face each other in the one-day event, whose primary objective was to raise funds for charity.

Admittedly, clubs at times abused the event. Often, those with a limited following managed to amass a staggering number of votes to outnumber the clubs with large fan bases, but at least the funds collected went to deserving organisations.

The abuse of the system was one of the reasons the Spectacular was canned and was replaced by the Black Label Cup, in which only the two rivals participate, albeit with a unique touch — the spectators choose the starting 11, the club coach is a spectator, and the man who shouts instructions from the dugout is chosen in a competition run by the brewing company.

A call to boycott the event to force the organisers to make it more inclusive, with at least two additional teams brought in, failed to take off.

Carling South Africa’s Samori Gambrah admitted that he did not have the answers to the demands of the fans for a new format to the pre-season cup competition. He also conceded that the social investment in the competition between the two Soweto giants left a lot to be desired, adding that, when the Carling Black Label Cup was introduced seven years ago, it was mainly to give the fans a voice in choosing the team they wanted to see playing on the day.

“We are not in bed with any specific club,” said Gambrah. “I think its passion is just to bring that voice and the power back to the fans. Now, we’re not oblivious that the fans have been asking for a different format. I don’t have the answers. But the key is that we start this conversation and allow it to actually happen.”

Be that as it may, the two starting line-ups have been concluded and there is little to choose from between the two. It is pride and a refusal to lose that will be the driving force.

Pirates might have had the edge over their rivals but events leading up to this clash indicate that, although the Bucs appear to be assembling a formidable squad for the future, rumblings and murmurs that Kjell Jonevret might be on his way out have brought about a lot of uncertainty.

But, as has often been the case between these rivals, the team that has been written off before the match usually turns out to be the winner, which is why the outcome is so difficult to predict. Even the most ardent of Chiefs followers are aware that Tendai Ndoro, who amassed the most votes from the Ghost (the nickname of Pirates supporters), could spoil their day.

“We need to stand up and be counted” was the rallying cry from Chiefs goalkeeper and skipper Itumeleng Khune and, rest assured, he will be their key player.

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