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16.06.2005 Sports News

What Bafana Bafana Need Are a Few Michael Jackson Fans

Ntloko (Business Day )

I NEVER thought I'd ever say this, but I have to admit that I was impressed by the unwavering loyalty shown by die-hard Michael Jackson fans during the pop star's trial on child molestation charges over the past few months.

These guys made Santa Maria, in California, their home for 14 weeks and never budged even when most of us continued to harbour private suspicions that the weird one had to be guilty of something -- after all, he was facing 10 charges.

Some of these loyal card- carrying fans gave up their day jobs during the trial and, I have to say, that reflects unbelievable support. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the majority of Bafana Bafana's Gauteng-based supporters.

At this very moment, national team coach Stuart Baxter, his players, the South African Football Association (Safa) and even the provincial government are all biting their nails about the prospect of Bafana Bafana hosting Ghana in front of an embarrassingly empty stadium at Soccer City on Saturday.

This crucial 2006 Soccer World Cup qualifier is easily Bafana biggest home game so far this year and yet all the stakeholders are understandably apprehensive that the supporters will, once again, fail to keep their end of the bargain.

And to think Jackson had no such problems in his greatest hour of need.

Safa CEO Raymond Hack rightfully pointed out that Soccer City is the home of South African football and should host games of this magnitude.

And by the way, it makes sense to play Ghana at Soccer City since the venue is also expected to host the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the final of the 2010 World Cup.

But nothing is ever certain when it comes to this province's supporters and Safa, Baxter, the players and government now have to beg people to support their country!

What the hell is that? How did we get to a point where we have to coax supporters into realising the Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates is not the only game on this country's football calendar? Sadly most still believe the derby is the only game on the calendar and this does not help Bafana one bit.

The bottom line is that the city's soccer-lovers have seldom shown interest in international matches and, as if to prove the point, Bafana attracted paltry crowds for the qualifiers against Burkina Faso last July and against Uganda earlier this year.

The problem seems to be Soccer City, as Bafana attracts good crowds whenever their games are taken to other provinces.

So now publicity campaigns will be conducted around Johannesburg over the next few days to try to convince people to come in great numbers to support their national team.

It's a sad day for the sport when supporters have to be literally begged to show love for their national team. What has happened to patriotism?

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