Dissecting the troublesome factors keeping Bafana Bafana fans away from the stands
Bafana Bafana played two international friendlies over the last week. The number of people who came to support the team could probably fit into a single bus. Just why are South Africans so cold towards Hugo Broos and his men?
As a cold front currently sweeps through South Africa, one particular group of South Africans felt the chill a bit more than many. That being Bafana Bafana.
South Africa’s senior men’s soccer side beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 on a nippy Tuesday evening at Soweto’s Orlando Stadium. The win stretched the team’s unbeaten run to nine games. Man of the moment, Lyle Foster netted the winner.
South Africa’s run has seen them beat nations such as Sierra Leone, Botswana, Liberia and even the darlings of African soccer at the moment — Morocco. The team has recorded six wins and three stalemates during this time.
Nevertheless, they have struggled to fill up stadiums. Their 2-1 over the Moroccans only drew about 40,000 spectators to the 90,000-capacity FNB Stadium in June. Even then, the feeling was that the main drawcard was seeing the 2022 World Cup semifinalists in the flesh.
But that attendance was tenfold better than the support that turned out to watch the team in Soweto over the last two matches against neighbouring Namibia and the Congolese.
Against the Namibians on Saturday — as the two teams played to a 0-0 draw — the stands were virtually empty.
Though, with the disjointed nature of the match, as Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos shuffled his deck every few minutes to hand as many players minutes on the pitch to impress him, even those watching from home likely had no regrets of not making the trip to Soweto.
The second match versus Congo, played at the same venue on Tuesday, saw the attendance rise slightly. The irony came from the fact that it was the visiting side with more fans that converged in Soweto.
“It is a little bit disappointing. You could see in the stadium there were more DRC supporters than for us. I hope in the future we will have more support,” Belgian Broos said following his team’s hard-fought 1-0 win.
“You saw what having the backing of your supporters can do. DR Congo grew in the game because they were supported by their fans. We had some difficult moments. And in that situation, you need your supporters to back you,” the 71-year-old lamented.
“I hope in future we can have better crowds than these games against Namibia and DR Congo.”
Tell me why
There are myriad factors behind this poor attendance. At the top of this is the fact that Bafana Bafana is but a mere shadow of the team it was about 25 years ago. The team’s reputation has been tarnished in the eyes of many who have watched it wither right before their eyes.
Long gone is the aura the team carried with the likes of Benni McCarthy and Lucas Radebe manning the oars. The shoe-shine days of dribbling wizards such as Doctor Khumalo, John “Shoes” Moshoeu and Steven Pienaar are a thing of the past.
Not to mention that the team hardly qualifies for major tournaments such as the Fifa World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon). They did manage to book a ticket to the latest edition of the latter showpiece, taking place in Ivory Coast in 2024. There the team can further sell itself to its indifferent supporters.
Even with the side’s displays evidently better on paper since Broos took over in May 2021, many Bafana Bafana followers still hold on to those nostalgic memories of yesteryear. Though, under Broos, the team is being built for efficiency over being as entertaining as past iterations.
Then there is of course the matter of Broos’s candid and concise approach when he addresses the issues that plague South African soccer, from his perspective.
The common theme is that the country is not at the level it used to be with producing quality players and that the domestic league is simply not good enough to compete with the powerhouses of the continent, never mind globally.
For this, the coach has been branded as a disrespectful old man, who does not understand the country’s soccer ecosystem.
However, empty stadiums at club level — unless it is Kaizer Chiefs versus Orlando Pirates, or Mamelodi Sundowns tackling either of the two Soweto sides — indicate that Broos is not wrong.
What is happening with Bafana Bafana is just a reflection of what is happening below them. Across the board.
Outside of Bafana Bafana themselves, the dwindling numbers at stadiums can be attributed to the fact that South Africa as a country is increasingly in disarray.
Economically, it does not make sense for someone to spend their money on a ticket, transport and refreshments to watch the team labour to a 1-0 win over a nation such as Sierra Leone — to spend money that can contribute to a week’s supply of an increasingly expensive loaf of bread. (General tickets for a game cost between R50 and R100)
Maybe when there comes a time when the team is confident enough to incorporate the “South Africa way” of playing soccer, with the dogged pursuit of results, people might be willing to forgo that loaf of bread.
For now, it simply isn’t worthwhile. However, the players must keep their heads down and continue to do what they are paid to do. The results will speak for them. Hopefully, to the point where they can no longer be ignored. DM