The Other Legacy Question

Siphiwe Tshabalala celebrates scoring the opening goal of the World Cup (Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

What happens on July 12th? It’s a question that’s been asked from the moment South Africa was awarded the World Cup. Once it’s all over, what will happen to the stadiums? What will happen to the economy?

There’s another question that hasn’t been asked quite so much, yet for football fans, it’s rather important: what will happen to South African football?

The country’s Premier Football League (PSL) is swimming in money. It has the seventh largest TV deal of any domestic league in the world and thanks to the World Cup it now has some rather nice stadiums to play in. There is just one problem: while football may be popular in South Africa, South African football is not. There is only one game that brings in the crowds: the Soweto derby, Orlando Pirates vs Kaizer Chiefs. Most other matches, even if Pirates or Chiefs are one of the two teams playing, struggle to attract many fans. Attendances in the low thousands are the norm.

One of the biggest criticisms of the World Cup was that ordinary South African football fans were priced out. But this now provides an opportunity. Many of those South Africans who did buy tickets were not traditional football fans. Most of those I spoke to on my visits to Football City, Ellis Park and Loftus Versfeld said it was their first time. The PSL needs to take advantage and they should offer this incentive: bring a used World Cup ticket to any PSL match and get in free. You went to watch four World Cup matches? Congratulations, you get to watch four PSL games free.

Most of those fans won’t take up the offer, finding the prospect of Platinum Stars versus Jomo Cosmos not quite as enticing as Brazil versus Holland. Many who do won’t come back again. But some will. They will get bitten by the bug in just the same way as every other football fan in the world did after going to their first match. They just need a little prod.

There are other things the PSL should consider, including restricting the sale of tickets to Pirates v Chiefs matches to those who have gone to at least one other match that season. They will also need a good advertising campaign, but again, that shouldn’t be too difficult. The stars who shone for Bafana – Siphiwe Tshabalala, Itumeleng Khune and Bongani Khumalo – all play for local clubs. There should be posters up now, encouraging fans to come and see the stars of the World Cup when the new season starts next month.

There is one other way to draw in the crowds, and this could also have an effect on the standard of football. South African football could do with a David Beckham, a star player who will add thousands to the gate wherever he plays. The chances of the original Beckham swapping LA Galaxy for Mamelodi Sundowns are slim, but what about Nwankwo Kanu? A genuine African superstar coming to the end of an illustrious career, Kanu would appreciate one last pay-day and would like the idea of being seen, once again, as the star of the show.

If Kanu’s move worked it would attract other stars, just as Beckham’s LA experiment appears to have persuade Thierry Henry that the MLS is the perfect place to wind down. In a year’s time Patrick Vieira might start thinking his time at the top level is coming to an end and consider a move down south.

South African football has a golden opportunity. Despite the success of the World Cup football here is in a pretty poor state. The national team performed well considering their limitations but qualifying for the next World Cup will be an uphill task. If South African football is going to develop then it needs more paying customers. There will never be a better chance to find them.


The best piece of journalism on ‘Africa’s World Cup’

Bar none.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
World Cup 2010: Into Africa – Goal Diggers
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Why Africa’s teams, Ghana aside, haven’t performed

…finding a common reason that explains Africa’s disappointment is pointless. This was not a continental failure, rather a combination of mistakes on and off the field, difficult draws and a dose or two of bad luck, all wrapped up in a layer of unrealistic expectation.

There was a hope that since this was the first World Cup in Africa then African teams would do well. But that’s all it was: hope. In reality, none of the six teams had suggested that they were capable of surpassing Cameroon and Senegal’s achievement of reaching the quarterfinals.

From my first piece for the New York Times’ ‘Goal’ blog. The rest is here


Africa United is now available in South Africa

Just in time for South Africans to celebrate the first World Cup in Afr – Oh…

Still, drown your sorrows and head over to Exclusive Books and pick up yours. I’ll be handing out prizes to anyone who manages to place copies of ‘Africa United’ in front of Simon Kuper’s Soccernomics on the main World Cup table, thus hiding my main competition.


Observations from Soccer City

Last night was my first World Cup experience as a fan. An Ivory Coast scarf wrapped round my neck, I watched Les Elephants lose 3-1 to Brazil at Soccer City. Some thoughts…

  • South Africans may have bought tickets in large numbers, but are they football fans? Many of those I sat with behind the goal last night were clearly going for the first time. Some were more interested in starting a Mexican Wave after five minutes than watching the football. With 10 minutes to go, and Ivory Coast back in it after Didier Drogba had pulled one back, people started leaving. “Traffic,” muttered one, as I asked why he was going
  • Selling ice creams at a night match during a winter World Cup is not a good idea
  • The park and ride scheme for Soccer City is working brilliantly. It took us less than an hour to get to the stadium after parking at Wits University, while on the way back the queues were orderly, moving fast and there were enough buses to take us all home. We were back at the car park within an hour and 15 minutes of the match ending. (I realise this wasn’t the case in Rustenburg, but then lots of things are worse in Rustenburg)
  • Category 3 is better than Category 1. We couldn’t see much of the action at the other end but it didn’t matter. The atmosphere was great and we got a fantastic view of Luis Fabiano’s first goal (the one where he didn’t handball it twice in the build-up) and Drogba’s consolation. Those in Category 1 (price: $180) had a great birds’ eye view of the whole pitch, but were as far away from the action is one can be. I know which seats I prefer.
  • Luis Fabiano is the new Thierry Henry
  • The Premier League is ludicrously over priced. It cost me $80 (about £55) to watch one of the best teams in the world take on some of Africa’s most talented players at an incredible stadium in a World Cup match. It would cost more to watch Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United or Tottenham in the Premier League
  • None of my teams (England, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and South Africa) have won yet.

“Do not underestimate the South African achievement.”

Excellent op-ed in he New York Times by Roger Cohen, who spent part of his childhood in apartheid South Africa. It’s worth reading the whole thing but here’s the best bit:

South Africa will probably become the first host nation ever to fail to qualify for the second round. That would be sad but in the end immaterial. This particular World Cup is political. It is an affirmation of a nation’s miraculous (if incomplete) healing, of African dignity, and of a continent that deserves better than those tired images of violence and disease.

“The country is going to the dogs,” — I still hear it as I heard it long ago in different guise. What did I say about statistics? There are plenty of them.

This is still a country where only 60 percent of dwellings have flush toilets, where an estimated 6 million people are H.I.V. positive, and where unemployment runs at 25 percent. High walls — and 300,000 private security guards — testify to high murder rates.

To all of which I say: People have unrealistic expectations. They want to fast-forward life as if it were a gadget. You don’t erase the effects of a half-century of apartheid in a generation. “Non-racialism” — President Jacob Zuma’s commitment — is not the state in which South Africa lives, any more than the United States does.

Still, what I see is grandeur: a country of 49 million people, 38.7 million of them black, 4.5 million of them white, the rest mixed-race or Asian, that has held together and shunned Zimbabwean unraveling or Congolese implosion. Do not underestimate the South African achievement.


England were rubbish – but Algeria are not a bad team

Algeria's Hassan Yebda refusing to let Rooney past (Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)

A bit of perspective on the England debacle in Cape Town last night. Algeria may have been useless against Slovenia in their opening match but, as I pointed out on Twitter yesterday, the Desert Foxes blow hot and cold.

At the African Nations they lost 3-0 to Malawi in the opening game but then recovered to reach the semi-finals, knocking out tournament favourites Ivory Coast along the way before self-combusting against Egypt.

Three previous encounters with Egypt in 2009 give an indication of Algeria’s strengths. Egypt are comfortably the best team in Africa, having won the last three African Nations. In last year’s Confederations Cup they beat Italy 1-0 and were unlucky to lose 4-3 to Brazil.

Algeria were drawn in the same World Cup qualifying group as Egypt with only the top team reaching South Africa. The Desert Foxes beat the Pharaohs 3-1 at home before losing 2-0 in Cairo, a result which forced a play-off on neutral territory. Algeria won that match, held in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, 1-0.

But it was the defeat in Cairo which, in many ways, was most admirable. The team bus was stoned by a group of Egyptian fans on their arrival at the airport. Several windows were smashed and three players were injured. Fifa refused to postpone the match – two of the players, Rafik Halliche and Kaled Lemmouchia, took to the field the following night with head bandages.

At least 90,000 Egyptian fans were packed into the Cairo International Stadium, most of whom had taken their seats six hours early. It was one of the most incredible atmospheres I’ve ever witnessed at a football match and must have been incredibly intimidating for the Algerians. Egypt scored an early goal but struggled to get a second which they needed to force the play-off. It eventually came in the 96th minute.

The Algerians were crestfallen – but four days later in Khartoum they would have their revenge.

The Egypt v Algeria match in Cairo features in the first chapter of Africa United…