Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Benoni Premier United – Orlando Pirates (12-11-2006)

On my last day in
South Africa, we had planned the biggest of the three games of this trip. Not that Benoni Premier United was such a catch; in fact, Benoni is a relatively young team from an industrial suburb of Johannesburg. Their opponents, the Orlando Pirates, are the second biggest team in Johannesburg and South Africa, after their bitter rivals, the Kaiser Chiefs. P.K. and I were picked up in Joburg by two colleagues and their partners and we made the short drive to Germiston, where the game was played. They had purchased tickets at 20 Rand (ca. 2 euro) in advance, which saved us hassle at the ground.

While I had expected a lot of away supporters, I have never seen this: in and around the Germiston Stadium the vast majority of the supporters were Pirates. Everywhere you saw the black and white outfits and it took me quite some time before I had figured out the colors of Benoni (white-blue). South African fans can be very colorful, but the Pirates fans are among the best.

We entered the ground some 20 minutes before the game, sitting us ground in the grass. Germiston Stadium has only one (covered) stand, one of the long sides, and the rest of the stadium is just a grassy hill. It felt almost like a picnic. All in all I estimate that some 15.000 people had made it to the stadium, ca. 90% of them Orlando Pirates supporters! During the whole game I couldn’t find any other whites than us, except for the referee. Still, we felt very safe and various black supporters clearly appreciated that we (whites) had come to the stadium; particularly because one of my colleagues was wearing a Pirates t-shirt. Interestingly, while Pirates and Chiefs are the main rivals in South African football, various people walked around in their Chiefs shirt and some even danced and cheered with the Pirates fans. You wouldn’t see that in much of Europe.

The game started fairly disorganized with a lot of heart but very little mind. In this orgy of rash challenges and failed passes, The Pirates scored a decent 0-1 around the 10th minute, to the great delight of the vast majority of the audience. After that the disorganized struggle continued, leading some 15 minutes later to the less greeted 1-1. During almost the whole first half the fans were cheering, dancing, laughing, and blowing their vuvuzela (a kind of plastic trumpet which makes the sound of a horny bull, if you can play it —which I can not). 1-1 was also the half time score.

From the beginning the clouds had been moving ominously into our direction and some ten minutes before half time the temperature was dropping significantly while the wind was picking up. Thousands of supporters made their way to the one covered stand, while my company was slowly but steadily starting to make their way out of the stadium. While Johannesburg storms are wild and wet, I was still disappointed to be forced to leave the game at half time. In all my years as a groundhopper, I had only once before left a game at half time: in Malta after my (ex-)wife couldn’t stand the dreadful football anymore. But, being fully dependent upon their transportation, I followed meekly. The game ended 2-1 for Benoni, with Pirates being brought back to ten men. And the storm did break out, big style, but unfortunately my flight back home was not postponed.

Football in South Africa definitely made me curious into football in other African countries. The game itself isn’t particularly good, especially when you like intelligent play, but the atmosphere is unique. So much energy and happiness. I cannot wait to visit my friend next year in Ghana!

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