The View From 116

Nothing to report about Ajax Cape Town again this week as yet another weekend ticks by without any PSL football. Since the league began on 23rd August there have been 16 weekends of potential action – but there has been PSL football scheduled on only five of them. While the rest of the world watches their local teams play on a regular basis here in South Africa the average football fan gets to spend their weekend doing DIY, gardening, or at the mall.

There was at least one game to watch this weekend of course – not that many people bothered to turn up. We avoid playing our PSL fixtures to accommodate the Telkom Knockout, a competition in which the final three games were watched by fewer people than would turn up to watch a pre-season friendly in many other countries. We clearly have a structural problem with football in South Africa, given that 80% of all supporters follow just two teams, regardless of where these “supporters” live or how willing they are to actually enter a stadium. When these big teams underperform the small fry step in to take their place and the nation’s footballing community switches off. The PSL grant that each side receives keeps clubs afloat that would otherwise fold in a matter of months if they had to rely on paying customers. This bumper input of millions of Rands each year is attractive to the clubs owners, who see a guaranteed income regardless of how little marketing they have to do or how few fans they bother to attract.

The end result is that we play cup finals in near deserted stadiums between two franchises that have no support base and no interest among the wider football community. It is not a good advert for South African football. Cape Town City may argue that they are just starting out and their success will help them build their support base. They should look at their opponents in Supersport United. The M-NET franchise that was once Pretoria City, actually won the PSL in three consecutive seasons from 2008-2010, but still have not captured the public’s imagination. While there will always be a few hangers-on that will support anyone that looks likely to win something, historically football fans prefer to follow a side that is linked to their community. This is why a side that is clearly linked to a corporation leaves supporters cold and why CTC FC are so desperate to market themselves as the team of the city.

The media seem to be buying into it, but is the city? Where were all those radio celebrities and local businesses that CTC have spent all season courting on Saturday? Where were the local bloggers and social media pundits, with their freebie CTC caps and shirts? Where was Jack Parow? Not at Peter Mokaba Stadium. Given that the Cape Town Rugby Sevens was played this weekend I would not be surprised if they were not even watching on TV.

These franchises are followed most closely by the media, who are of course paid to go and are looking for good news stories to make up for the embarrassingly empty stands. If you read the football press this week you will be told that CTC FC made history or are a fairy tale, or even a miracle. This makes a good story, but it is of course far from the truth. They are a team that finished 4th in the PSL last season, that have been strengthened and given a better coach. Should we be surprised that they won a cup six months later? Leicester City winning the EPL was a miracle, Chapecoense reaching the final of the Copa Sudamericana was a fairy tale (with an awful tragic ending). As for making history, did CTC FC really make as much history as Ajax Cape Town did by winning a domestic final last season with a record 10 academy players in the starting line-up?

We have to be fair and offer congratulations to Cape Town City and particularly Eric Tinkler, who is clearly yet another superb coach treated abysmally by the football giants of the north. But, let’s wait and see just how much of a football revolution this really is for Cape Town. Will this franchise move on again when John Comitis feels he has taken revenge against Ajax Cape Town as far as he can? Will the handful of glory hunters that have decided to follow them also move on with them? What was achieved this weekend could all be forgotten in a year or two and only recorded in the dusty record books at PSL headquarters. With no game to play, the Ajax Cape Town players spent their weekend packing food parcels for the Stop Hunger now program in Cape Town. In the long term, their efforts may well be more appreciated and remembered by more people in this city than the on-field efforts of Cape Town’s franchise team.

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