On a rather dull and dreary Sunday morning in Bloemfontein I’m sitting here in my lounge trying to get over a horrid few days in South African sports. It all started on Friday with the Proteas ‘shock’ exit from the ICC Cricket World Cup. Yet again in the knock -out stages of the tournament – against a team that on any given day would have been crushed by the might of the Proteas. Once again the World has labeled us ‘Chokers’. Saturday morning I woke up at 5 am, made coffee and got ready to watch and cover the Queensland Reds playing against the Toyota Cheetahs. The Cheetahs were riding very high and with a lot of spirit after the previous weekend’s fantastic victory over the NSW Waratahs in Sydney. I’d be lying if I say I was expecting the Cheetahs to beat the Reds, it was more a case of I was hoping more than anything else that they would record back-to-back victories.
My first indication that there might be trouble for the Cheetahs was when I noticed that the men from Brisbane are playing the exact brand of Rugby that Bloemfontein is renowned and fear for; Simple basic running rugby. Unfortunately it was not to be for the men from central South Africa. I can’t tell you what the cause was, I don’t know if it was because of over confidence brought on by beating one of the historically stronger teams of super rugby in their own backyard the seven days earlier. I don’t know if the team had something bad to eat the previous night. Or I don’t know if the team went out the previous night and only made it back to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning. What I can tell you is that if I had the answer I might just be a very wealthy man in a few weeks time. A losing culture is a culture that neither the team nor the teams’ fans can afford. It has massive implications on both fronts. Rugby isn’t just a little game. Rugby is a culture as rich and diverse as the world. Whoever pinned the phrase ‘The Beautiful Game’ to Football obviously doesn’t know or understand the beauty of Rugby.
Sitting in one the many restaurants in the Waterfront right across the entrance of the Free State Stadium Saturday night following the Cheetahs first loss of the season to the Bulls in the their opening encounter of the 2011 Super15 I realised the importance of Super Rugby to Bloemfontein. Speaking to the owner of the restaurant who happens to be a personal friend, we started speaking about the previous night game. In our post-match dissection of the game he said something to me that got me pondering on a level I haven’t pondered in many years. I could see the frustration, emotion and one could even see the stress in his eyes. I could hear it in his voice as well. His words to me were and I quote “Bloemfontein, cannot afford to lose the franchise”. He admitted it was on a personal level as well because he gets a lot of feet in he’s restaurants before, during and after the games. Which is fair? That got me wondering if the hierarchy of Free State Rugby realised what the implications would be losing the franchise to the Southern Kings. Mr. ‘Cheeky’ Watson, the father of the infamous Luke Watson is making enough noise to get his Super Rugby franchise next year.
Free State Rugby is a sorry state at the moment and it’s a huge problem. It should not only be sorted out by the Union. Expecting the Union to sort out their internal problems will be exactly the same as South Africa expecting the Government to sort out the problems that South Africans face daily. Doing the math it seems to me that it’s a lot easier for us to fix the problems with Free State Rugby.
The first step to get this problem sorted out is to get off your backsides and get to the game. Daily that people moan that nobody attends the games. Such enough it’s not nice to see your team lose. Free State supporters obviously have the memory of a goldfish. Not too long ago people weren’t attending the games as religiously either and all off a sudden the Cheetahs defeated a big team in an away game. The following weekend they had more feet at the game and they crushed another big team at home. This had a snowball effect and the next thing we knew the Cheetahs were playing a semi-final against the Lions at home in a sold-out game. The Cheetahs crushed the Lions and set-up a home final against the Bulls. It starts with the fans, not the team. Another word for fan is supporter and that is exactly what your job is. Support your team! They need you. I guarantee you the more people at the games the better the Cheetahs will play. Once that happens the money will be there to buy better players, coaching and support staff, keep key players and not sell an entire championship team to French and English clubs. In supporting your team you’re supporting yourselves, I know it doesn’t seem like it, but you do. Supporting your team means you’ll be supporting your City. We cannot let this rich rugby culture die because of refusing to pay R50 –R60 for a ticket to watch and support your team.
Bloemfontein is the most central place in South Africa which means that you can barely drive from one major city to the next without going through Bloem. Bloem has this reputation for being this droog, plaat barren dorpie daar in the Vrystaat se vlaktes. Yet when people visit Bloem for a weekend they always leave having discovered something special and unique. Let’s change this perception with our Rugby. Let’s invite people to Bloem by using our Rugby as an advertising tool. The potential is here, use it. The ball is in your 22.
By Morgan L. Piek.