The fixtures are out, the team is playing warm-up games and season tickets are being sold. Everything is coming together for another new season of live football. Perhaps the only negative at the moment is the fact that we now know we will have to wait until 13th September to visit the Cape Town Stadium for our first home fixture. Before then the new Cape Town / Mpumalanga franchise side will have played their opening fixtures at the stadium in both the PSL and MTN8. We have to get used to ground sharing. Although our neighbours are now apparently toying with the idea of playing some of their home games in Nelspruit.
Of course we have no choice in the matter as the stadium belongs to neither side, and we are at the mercy of the City of Cape Town when it comes to scheduling fixtures. It has happened before of course when Vasco da Gama had their PSL season in 2010-11. On a few occasions Ajax and Vasco ran double headers that were well received by the public. There was still a feeling that Ajax were the established side, while Vasco were the support act in these fixtures. That power balance has now shifted. Cape Town City FC are the noisy neighbours that believe they are at least our equals – and let’s be honest they probably consider themselves the city’s premier side. With their squad of foreigners and Mpumalanga based players, and a fan base that has never seen them play a single game, that is going to be hard to swallow. And now – despite their obvious identity crisis – we have to share a stadium with them.
Well don’t worry. We will not have to disinfect the seats or take covers to sit on. Ground sharing between fierce rivals does happen around the world. In some countries it remains totally against the footballing culture. Take England where fans hate the idea. Liverpool and Everton both need new or expanded grounds and the sharing of a new stadium at Stanly Park has long being discussed – although Liverpool’s owners deny this. It can happen though. Did you know that Manchester United and Manchester City shared a ground in the 1940’s? In 1971 Manchester United even played home games at Anfield! In more recent times premier league Crystal Palace have shared with both Charlton and Wimbledon on a temporary basis.
One well-known current example of ground sharing is in Germany where the Allianz Arena is shared between Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 München. The stadium is famous for its luminous exterior panals. The panels are lit for each game with the colours of the respective home team—red for Bayern Munich, blue for TSV and white for the German national football team. White is also used when the stadium is a neutral venue, like the 2012 UEFA Champions League Final. How cool would it be if we could arrange for Cape Town Stadium to be red for Ajax and blue for the Cape Town City FC?
It is in Italy where the best examples of rivals sharing a ground can be found. There are several examples, but the best are the San Siro (Inter Milan and AC Milan) and the Olympic Stadium (Roma and Lazio). These are clubs with a fierce rivalry, whose derby games often make the Soweto Derby look like a picnic in the park. Inter and AC share the San Siro stadium, but the city council own it- so it is not unlike our situation. Known for their passionate ultra supporter groups the two clubs even have a museum in the stadium. I think we are some way off that situation, although it would be useful for the public to be reminded that Cape Town City FC have their roots in Mpumalanga.
The Olympic Stadium in Rome hosts one of the world’s most fiercely contested derby games between two sides whose supporters seem to genuinely hate each other. Sadly the fixture has a history of violence during which supporters have even been killed. Roma take their support from a traditional working-class fan base, while Lazio’s support tends to come from the wealthier districts. The historical political differences between the fans drives this rivalry. Somehow, even under these circumstances the two teams manage to share a ground.
So it is possible to ground share without too much ill-feeling toward our neighbours. Let them enjoy their current hyped-up status, but let’s not forget which of the two sides truly has its roots in Cape Town and let’s get that stadium decked out in red when it is our turn to use it.