|Fan trouble: at the Orlando Stadium in August|
THERE was a football story which very nearly slipped under the radar this week, a tale far more worrying than Bafana's 1-0 defeat against AFCON champions Zambia or Banyana's final 4-0 CAF defeat against those dodgy gals from Equatorial Guinea.
Very quietly, a day after announcing their “learning centre” to help the local community, Orlando Pirates took their case over fan behaviour to arbitration, claiming the Buccaneers CANNOT be blamed for the behaviour of their Ghostly fans.
It might not sound important. Especially when you consider the club run by the PSL chairman - Irvin Khoza was re-elected unopposed last week - announced on the same day they were closing their youth academy due to concerns over age cheating.
All in all, with two fans arrested for stoning the Zambia team bus outside Soccer City, it hasn't been a great week for South African football. SAFA CEO Robin Petersen remains on the brink of being re-deployed and livewire Malmo striker Tokelo Rantie could be OUT of AFCON after going off injured against the Zambians.
But it's the reluctance of the Iron Duke to accept his club's liability for the behaviour of their fans which is of serious concern, with the African Cup of Nations kicking off here on January 19 when Bafana play the Cape Verde Islands.
The thing is, Pirates tend to see themselves as above the law these days. The case in point - trouble during last season's Telkom KO final against Wits - is not the only problem. I was at the Orlando Stadium when serious trouble halted their MTN quarter-final against SuperSport United.
I stood among the Ghost while referee Robert Smith was forced to suspend the game briefly when fireworks were throw - and then scurried to safety when the whistle went and fans invaded the pitch, furious about Smith’s decision to red card Benni McCarthy.
I said at the time action should be taken, REAL fines handed out and the threat of playing behind closed doors should have been wheeled out. Instead, the PSL disciplinary committee chose to charge Kaizer Chiefs for far less serious misdemeanours at Loftus against Sundowns a month before along with Pirates.
And then, on the day Gordon Igesund led Bafana for the first time on home soil against Mozambique, both cases were adjourned. No action was taken. Then we had pictures of Johan Neeskens being pelted by Msandawana fans at Moroka Swallows, images that were flashed around the world.
If ever there was a time to clamp down hard on fan misbehaviour it is now. Instead, the chairman of the PSL (who also runs the NSL and is a vice president of SAFA, though he has decided NOT to run for Olympic chairman) apparently chooses to dispute his club’s liability.
Think carefully about this. I am not waging war against Orlando Pirates or the Iron Duke. Nobody would be that stupid in the current climate. What I am saying is that, instead of clamping down on the kind of embarrassing incident which happened after the Zambia game this week, we are disputing who is responsible.
Pirates have good reason to take such action. Their fans have several outstanding cases against them. First the Telkom Final, for which they received a R250,000 suspended fine which they failed to overturn on appeal.
Then, according to the excellent Mark Gleeson, my old pal writing for the Sowetan, we have:
19 May: Pirates fans invaded the pitch at the Moses Mabhida Stadium after their title-clinching win over Lamontville Golden Arrows. The charge took two months to materialise. Case put on hold.
25 August: Pirates were charged after supporters threw an assortment of objects onto the pitch during the MTN8 semifinal second leg when SuperSport United won 3-0 at the Orlando Stadium. As I mentioned above, an Nyala armoured car was called in to action to protect the referee and several fans in SuperSport and Kaizer Chiefs shirts – as well as a press photographer - were injured after a pitch invasion.
Gleeson says that, over the past two years, Pirates have paid R250,000 in fines and after losing their appeal over the Telkom final, they owed another R100,000.
With the three further charges above still outstanding months after the problems occurred, Pirates could now face a bill of R1million for incidents since December last year. In most FIFA nations, the threat of playing behind closed doors would now have emerged.
For the double-treble champions to “boast” such a track record but remain unpunished seems almost unbelievable.
Then, on Wednesday, we had Pirates going to arbitration to change the globally accepted understanding that clubs SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE for their fans.
If Pirates win their case, they will be able to shrug off the charges listed above, claiming they have nothing to do with their own fans’ behaviour.
The same will apply to Sundowns and Chiefs. But at the same time, how will future outbreaks of fan violence be dealt with? Who gets punished? Will security companies and the police be forced to attend in larger numbers – and could THEY then face fines for failing to control crowds?
Stadium security and conditions in Europe – particularly in Britain – were upped after a long history of hooliganism which kept women and children from watching football 20 years ago. But only because harsh measures were taken against the clubs involved – ALL English clubs were banned from Europe for five years after the Heysel disaster, several were forced to play in front of empty stadiums.
If Pirates – backed by their owner and PSL chairman Dr Khoza – succeed in escaping responsibility for their fans, who will keep the peace?
Of course the individuals who misbehave must be caught and punished, but it the club isn’t fined or forced to play behind closed doors, how will South African football EVER be able to ensure the security of vulnerable fans?
So far, we have had no public statement from Dr Khoza on the way his club is trying to escape responsibility for the fans who wear their replica shirts and buy their tickets.
But I’d suggest he think very carefully about who he supports here – his own PSL disciplinary committee, or the club he runs.