It’s the noise. It starts as a steady hum, punctuated by the odd shrill sound from a “vuvuzela”, a trumpet-like device unique to Africa, as hordes of Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates fans make their way down the street towards the Coca Cola Park stadium.
It builds to a more consistent buzz and chatter, the closer you get
to the ground, as colourful groups, bedecked in either the black and
white of Pirates or the gold and black of Chiefs, come together as one,
wearing team shirts, caps, scarves or even the more outlandish “makaraba”
(township slang for “safety hat”) on their heads.
only once you enter the stadium and take up your position in the stands,
that you get an appreciation for what is nothing short of a cacophony
of sound, from approximately 70,000 different sources, as the excitement
builds to the start of what every Chiefs and Pirates fan will tell you
is, without exception, the highlight of any season.
This is the Soweto
Rated consistently among the top five
football derbies in the world for its passion, history and colour,
the Soweto Derby pits South Africa’s most high-profile and well-supported
“glamour clubs” against each other in a fixture that stirs the emotions
and which is more about one-upmanship than the quality of the football.
The intense rivalry has it’s roots in the breakaway of former Pirates
player, Kaizer Motaung, to form a new professional club in South Africa
in 1970, following his return from a spell in the North America Soccer
League. Motaung, now the club chairman, took with him a few disgruntled
Pirates players and there the seeds were sown for a rivalry that would
trump all in South African football.
But, whilst it’s a bitter rivalry,
there isn’t that latent aggression that accompanies many of the great
football derbies around the world. In fact, it’s probably one of the
few where rival fans are able to sit side-by-side in the stands and
watch their teams go at each other for 90 minutes, without the desire
to inflict some sort of injury on an opposing fan. So, there I was,
in my Chiefs shirt, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with passionate Pirates
fans and cheering on my team, without fear of reprisal or grievous bodily
harm! In fact, that’s something else that makes football watching
in South Africa unique. Yes, my ticket said “West Upper Stand” and
that’s where I took up my place. But, no, I wouldn’t be sitting
in seat 24, row D, because that’s not how it works in South African
In fact, I was just thankful I arrived early enough to find
a seat, as teeming masses of Pirates fans crowded the exits and walkways,
eager for the opportunity to prey on the poor soul who was the unfortunate
owner of a weak bladder and had no-one to keep his seat for him!
(It’s certainly something that South
African officials will have to get right by June 2010, as the rest of
the football world arrive to take up their designated seats, as is done in most countries around the world).
There have been violent incidents over
the years and the seating is divided to accommodate Chiefs fans on one
side and Pirates fans on the other; but, if you happen to find yourself
in a Chiefs jumper on the Pirates side of the stadium, you’re more
likely to get a vocal ribbing, than something sharp between ribs three
Whilst violence and football derbies
often go hand-in-hand, and all the great ones around the world have
sad stories from the past, the Soweto Derby’s darkest day, ironically,
saw fans of both clubs come together in grief, following the most tragic
event in South African sporting history.
In scenes that mirrored the
Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, 43 Chiefs and Pirates fans were killed
on 11 April, 2001, when a stampede saw fans of both
clubs crushed to death. Perhaps, then, it’s quite poignant that the
derby continues to be played at the stadium formerly known as Ellis
Park, as Chiefs and Pirates supporters remember those who lost their
lives eight years ago. It’s also a timely reminder that there are
more important things in life than the result of one’s football team
and fans of both teams carry with them the memory of the tragic events
Chiefs fans pride themselves on the
“Love and Peace” incorporated into the club’s slogan and indeed,
the club’s most well-known and visible supporter, Saddam Maake, with
his oversized Chiefs glasses and an adoring entourage, makes a plea
for a peaceful afternoon of football, along with the obligatory Chiefs
But, Chiefs are up against it. They
go into the match third in the local Premiership standings, a point
behind their rivals and seven adrift of pace-setters, SuperSport United,
with just a couple of games remaining.
Victory for either of the Soweto
giants is a must, if the defending league champions are to be prevented
from making it consecutive Premiership titles. Pirates are one of the
form teams in the league and they outplay their rivals in the first
half, much to the delight of the baying Buccaneers faithful.
known as “The Ghost”, Pirates fans are easily recognisable in anything
black and white and for the “skull-and-crossbones” sign they make
with their hands when taunted by an opposing Chiefs fan. Only some poor
finishing stands between Pirates and a significant goal advantage and
The Ghost can sense it, as they dance and chant in unison, sensing that
the opening goal is not far away.
It takes until well into the second
half for it to arrive, but when it does, the stadium erupts, as goalscorer
Katlego Mashego spins away to celebrate in front of his adoring fans.
Again, it’s the noise; and the goal raises the decibel level to something
almost incomprehensible, as the sea of black and white wave shirts,
scarves and vuvuzelas above their heads and start a celebratory chant
that lasts all of about 15 minutes.
It’s only cut short by a pesky
Chiefs equaliser, but normal order is restored barely minutes later,
as Mashego grabs the winner and carves his name into Soweto Derby history,
as he dreams of the time he’ll be able to tell his grand-children
about the day he scored the winner against Chiefs.
As the final whistle blows, it’s
the jubilant Pirates fans who remain behind to milk every last second
of a memorable derby victory and contemplate the joys of the impending
bragging rights for the next few months, until the next clash with Chiefs
The Soweto Derby is all about colour, passion and history
and it seems to run deep, with fans from both teams unashamedly nailing
their colours to the mast and taking pride in which side of Soweto their
allegiance lies. But, ultimately, for me, it’s about the noise and
that’s the enduring memory I’ll take with me, as I sit down in front
of my sporting calendar and pencil myself in for the next Soweto Derby,
later in the year.
Dylan Rogers, Goal.com