The View From 116

Finally we are almost ready to go again. The PSL will begin again for AjaxCT on Tuesday night, 48 days after the players last kicked a football in competitive action. Surely this has been the longest mid-season break in the history of modern football. The Germans are famous for their long winter breaks, but even the Bundesliga only takes one month off. We need football to give us our sporting fix – it has been so bad I even found myself waching golf on TV last weekend.

The first game back is a real tough assignment, away at Bidvest Wits. Playing at altitude again, against a side in with a genuine shot at the PSL title. Despite this all eyes have been on the first game back in Cape Town, with the second round of the now hugely hyped Ikapa Deby next weekend. On paper, it’s just another game, with just the same three points that are always available. On the night though we all know it will become something more.

There is no doubt who had the better of the first half of the season and there is also no doubt that CTC enjoyed rubbing their success in the faces of everyone at AjaxCT. I wonder if John Comitis classes the past six months as the best of his life. The not so subtle postings from their marketing department that have constantly boasted about not been a selling club – wonder who that was aimed at? Of course they don’t let the facts get in the way of their chirping. Check the statistics and you will see that CTC have since sold four of the first choice eleven players they started the season with. AjaxCT in contrast have sold none. Then there was the run up to the last Ikapa Derby as they posted about running the Dutch out of the Cape again, in their ‘Reclaim the City’ campaign. It was like listening to an EEF political rally.

Who knows how this rivalry will eventually pan out. CTC could fade away as quickly as they arrive, relocate to another city or spend the next few decades winning silverware. One thing they will never be able to escape from is their background. They may think they are the rebirth of the old Cape Town City (an all-white apartheid era team – they don’t brag about that part of their ‘history’ on social media), but the reality is they are Mpumalanga Black Aces, and PSL fans know that.

Whenever I blog about this I constantly get called out on social media. While such geographical relocations are uncommon in many leagues and actually banned in some countries, here in South Africa they are sadly common. Therefore many CTC fans consider the actions of their owner to be OK. It’s true they did nothing illegal, but this is one of those situations that seems to break the spirit of the game and leaves supporters and media feeling uncomfortable. After scratching around in the NFD, Comitis realised it was too much like hard work to get promoted legitimally and splashed the cash to buy someone elses team, regardless of what their supporters felt about it. This is the real history that CTC can never escape from.

I even get told that AjaxCT has exactly the same history, and I should not forget where the clubs origins lie. I have not forgotten. AjaxCT were formed from the merger of two existing Cape Town sides. There was no geographical relocation. No other community had their team taken from them and moved thousands of kilometres to a site where they could no-longer go to watch games. Such mergers are common in football and many great community clubs were formed in this way – Roma, Fiorentina, Newcastle United, and PSG are just some examples.

It is sad to see Cape Town people buying into this sleazy project. We all know someone who has moved over and we can see them bragging about their six months of glory on social media. Some have simply moved over out of spite because they felt AjaxCT should be listening to their marketing ideas or employing them. Some have been enticed by free branded gear from the newcomers. Some never follow the PSL but suddenly saw the hype and realized that Mpumalanga Black Aces finished third last season and there is a chance they could see some immediate success. We have been told AjaxCT went stale, did not listen, were tired, had run out of ideas……

There are words used to describe the sort of people that tell us this.  Around the world football fans recognise these sort of people and there are many names for them. In Asia they are called bandwagon fans, in France they are footix fans, the Germans call them Erfolgsfans. My favourite is the English term, ‘plastic fans’. The term is not widely used outside of British football fan culture, but it refers to fans that are not real – they change teams in the blink of an eye when another side suddenly looks likely to win something. Often they did not even watch football before, but will suddenly declare their loyal support for whichever side gets taken over by businessmen and buys an expensive side of superstars. Chelsea and Manchester City are the two classic examples of this – a long history of virtually no success and then a takeover by a billionaire and suddenly a stadium full of plastic fans.

The downside of this is of course that plastic fans do not stay loyal. We all know that plastic melts and when results go bad and the heat comes on the coach, those plastic fans will melt away. This is what I see when I look at the pictures of CTC fans posted by the club on their social media. Think back to those students with the giant blue flag in 116 during the last Ikapa Derby and wonder how long they will stay loyal in the second half of the season, when Chiefs and Sundowns come on strong and the PSL title suddenly looks unlikely. When the owners no longer offer free deals for students, taxi drivers, city employees etc. Did they even bother to leave the City Bowl when CTC played their Telkom Knockout semi-final in front of virtually nobody at Athlone Stadium?

Despite all the hype, it really is just one game next weekend. Win, lose or draw, if you are wearing an AjaxCT shirt afterwards you will at least know that you are behind a side with some local heritage and meaning to the city of Cape Town. You are not a plastic fan.

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