Plight of Cape Town clubs highlights PSL ground issue
Imagine being told that you have to play a 'home' game some 1,300 kilometres away from your supporters, and what's worse, the fixture will be just down the road from your opponents.
This is the near-farcical situation that has befallen South African Premier Soccer League side Cape Town City, who must play their 'home' league clash against Maritzburg United in KwaMashu, KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday.
This is because there are no stadia in Cape Town available that meet the PSL's minimum requirements after a crippling drought left their alternate venue, the Athlone Stadium, out of action.
Unable to sufficiently water the grass, the pitch at Athlone, which in the last few months has been used by six teams for home games, has become what can only be described as a sandy beach and certainly not up to standard for top-flight football.
It highlights again the plight of many South African clubs, who are at best tenants in the stadia they play in and at the whim of the venue owners.
This is unlike the situation through most of the world, where the clubs either own their stadium or have a long lease that guarantees them access to it.
City are not alone in their misery; Ajax Cape Town will play their next 'home' match on Saturday against Chippa United at the Bidvest Stadium in Johannesburg.
The home venue for both clubs is usually the immaculate Cape Town Stadium, but that has been off limits for some time for functions, an action sports circus and, this weekend, the World Rugby Sevens Series that comes into town.
It has left both clubs fuming, especially City, though their anger towards the local municipality is also calculated at pushing through what is their ultimate aim, to develop the crumbling Hartleyvale Stadium in the city's Observatory suburb into a stadium they can use for home matches and avoid the circus they currently find themselves embroiled in.
Outspoken City coach Benni McCarthy was quoted in a statement from the club last week in which he laid into the municipality and accused them of showing disrespect to football fans in the city.
"I've been away from Cape Town for 21 years and while so much has changed‚ nothing has changed‚" McCarthy said last week.
"It is with great sadness to my players‚ this club‚ our fans‚ and all the football loving people of Cape Town that we must confirm that our upcoming home match versus Maritzburg United will be played away from home‚ in Durban.
"To play that crucial game in the opposition's province is quite frankly hurtful and embarrassing," he continued. "The Cape Town Stadium is unavailable due to the setting up of Rugby 7s‚ but we have become accustomed to being removed from Cape Town Stadium for events far less significant.
"It blows my mind how a stadium that only exists because of the Soccer World Cup‚ cannot be reserved for 15 out of 365 days for the City's premium soccer team. Football has been sold lies in Cape Town.
"When there is a private wedding‚ the stadiums are ready. When there's a rugby competition‚ the stadiums are ready. When there's a nitro circus car event‚ the stadiums are ready.
"For football‚ Cape Town's World Cup stadium - unavailable. Athlone Stadium - used by a thousand tenants and has become a sand patch. Newlands - unavailable.
"Make an emergency plan at another venue across the entire Western Cape - um‚ sorry we didn't think that far ahead. But our fixtures are no secret?"
City of Cape Town officials hit back at McCarthy, saying they had given fair warning about unavailability of the Cape Town Stadium and had tried to help the club get fixtures switched so that Tuesday night's game was an away fixture for the club.
However, the whole issue boils down to one fundamental point, clubs need to have more control over their home ground.
In the PSL, only three clubs can claim to own the stadiums they play at - Orlando Pirates (Orlando Stadium), Platinum Stars (Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace) and Bloemfontein Celtic (Dr Petrus Molemela Stadium), with the latter having been gifted their ground by the local municipality.
The rest are, to a greater or lesser degree, at the mercy of others and will forever be vulnerable to their landowners.