It does not take a seductive marketing campaign to get me into a football ground. I am one of those increasingly unusual people that enjoys watching football live in a ground rather than via social media, satellite TV, or a dodgy internet stream. It really is an easy sell to get me to part with my money for a match ticket. When the team is playing poorly, I still come. When the coach selects six defenders in the starting line up, I still come. When it is pouring with rain or the south-easter is pounding, I still come. When somebody parachutes a successful team into the city from the other side of the country and tells us it is the “team for the city”, I have the self-respect and personal integrity to dismiss it and still come to the stadium and watch my original team.
But I did not go to Athlone Stadium on Saturday night.
There is one thing that can stop me from coming to the stadium. Moving the date on which the game is played at late notice. At the start of the season I print the fixture list out, highlight the home games and arrange the rest of my weekends around the football. This has been my first problem as the fixture list for this season seems hard to locate. In previous years, I have downloaded it from the club website – this seems the obvious place to start. However, even now the club website still shows the previous seasons fixtures. That seems like a fundamental error from a club whose internet presence has otherwise been outstanding this season. The official PSL website only had the first few rounds of games advertised prior to the season starting. Annoying, but no problem in this age of electronic communications. One google search later and a site called worldfootball.net had the whole seasons fixtures ready for me. Printed out, stuck to the fridge, all games ready to go.
The AjaxCT page at worldfootball.net informed me that the home fixture with Bloemfontein Celtic was scheduled for 27 October. With no game scheduled for the previous Saturday I made arrangements that I could not change and headed out of the city. It was not until a few days before the game that I realised it was now been played a week earlier and I was going to miss it. Everyone else was talking about it and I was going to be miles away. A little bit like that horrible moment you turn up at school to find an exam scheduled that everyone else has revised for, but you knew nothing about.
The rescheduling of football fixtures for TV is a fact of modern life. As much as it annoys and inconveniences supporters, it is necessary if the clubs wish to accept the riches that TV deals provide. It happens in the best leagues in the world – Spain, England and Italy for example. In some cases it is not even TV that causes fixtures to move. It was reported that the Soweto Derby, the biggest game in the South African football calender, was moved to accommodate a circus this year. We know all about football teams being moved out of the football stadium in Cape Town, in order to accommodate just about anything.
So, even though I missed a rare victory, I should not complain too much. The money that TV is generating is vital because it allows the club to sign all these exciting players that now play ahead of the academy players in the first team. However, this game was not on TV and there is no circus scheduled for our stadiums next week. Why was the game moved? Did worldfootball.net get the fixtures wrong in the first place? Do Ajax Cape Town still not know the exact fixture schedule? Did the PSL forget they were scheduling the Telkom Knockout next weekend and had to move a whole round of fixtures?
It is hard to be a PSL football fan. If you follow rugby the Currie Cup fixtures are published well in advance and do not get rescheduled. I can see all the Sunfoil series cricket fixtures online through to next March. I can also go to the Western Province and Cape Cobras websites and download the home fixture lists. And then go to Newlands and watch them. If you are a football fan it is a magical mystery tour of moving fixtures that are advertised at short notice and can take place at different venues across the city. I have the 25th November penciled in for the next home game against promotion stealing Amazulu (no venue confirmed). Seems like a long wait and I cannot be sure if the circus will be in town, so if I have this wrong please somebody let me know.