Do you think the man in the yellow onesie who invaded the Orlando Pirates’ technical area at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon was mad?
It’s a tough question to answer without conducting a full psychiatric examination of the ungovernable Mamelodi Sundowns fan in question. Given that some properly unstable men are ruling the world right now, is it really so crazy for a simple, honest supporter to hop down from the stands and share his heartfelt opinions with an opposing coach during a game? It’s a free country, no?
Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane begs to differ. “Some people are not going to think rationally like we think, they take it in a different way,” he said during the post-match press conference.
The “it” in question was Bafana Bafana midfielder Bongani Zungu’s nasty subtweet last week and the hysterical media hullabaloo that ensued. Zungu, formerly a Sundowns player who now plies his trade in France, insinuated that Orlando Pirates’ assistant coach Rhulani Mokwena has played a more significant role in his team’s successes than both his old boss (Mosimane) and his new boss at the Bucs, Milutin Sredojević.
It’s unclear why Zungu’s cheap little dig would drive a testy Sundowns fan to confront the hapless Mokwena rather than the hater himself. Maybe it was simply for practical reasons, as Zungu would be difficult to reach in France if you don’t have his cell number. The fan was arrested for his action, which meant that later he had to share jail space with some unpleasant characters.
But for Mosimane, this sort of madness was only to be expected. He condemned the pitch invasion, but also implied that if anybody dares to disrespect Brand Pitso in any way, the natural order of things is disrupted and armies of lunatics in yellow onesies destroy the universe. Before you know it, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are galloping into the media suite at Loftus Versfeld and chowing all the sausage rolls. So we must all just shut up and the world will be a better place.
OK fine, Pitso. But in truth, the invader in question wasn’t so mad. He was smart enough to spot an inviting gap in the stadium security cordon, and sane enough not to physically attack Mokwena, the object of his disaffections. Instead, the intruder confined himself to giving Mokwena a short, loud sermon from a range of 2cm, complete with a wagging finger.
So I would argue that this pisscat priest of the Holy Church of Masandawana is arguably a saner fellow than those PSL officials who persist in the delusion that the local game’s big fixtures don’t need proper crowd control. Disturbingly, the replays suggest that no stadium security staff were in sight when the plastered pastor made his move. Only team security were on hand to pull the intruder away. If any crowd control staff were close by, they might have been committing the cardinal sin of watching the game. If you don’t face the fans, you can’t control them.
The chronic laxness of our match-day security operations would be understandable, if not forgivable, if South African football enjoyed a strong recent record of peaceful fan behaviour. We decidedly don’t. Barely a year has passed since two fans died in a stampede trying to force their way into FNB Stadium during the Carling Black Label Champion Cup between Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. And barely six months have passed since a mob of Chiefs fans ran riot during a Nedbank Cup clash with Free State Stars and beat a security guard almost to death. In last year’s edition of Saturday’s fixture, there was chaos at Loftus.
Of course, one accepts that no security operation can prevent any conceivable disturbance. Even Vladimir Putin couldn't stop Pussy Riot from invading the pitch at the World Cup final.
Managing the fans
But even so, you can manage the maddest of fans. When I went to a Galatasaray game in Istanbul in 2012, I watched a tattoo-scrawled Galatasaray fan devoting the entire night to fulfilling his dream of getting over a security fence, or under it, or around it. He barely watched a second of the game because his sole mission was to create chaos. But the security staff controlled him throughout without arresting or manhandling him.
There must be an element of denialism in the baffling complacency of the PSL’s security management. There is a stubborn delusion that any given PSL game is fundamentally low-risk simply because the fans sit together in a big mosaic and are not divided by the intensely bitter, semi-criminal aggression that divides rival fans elsewhere in the world.
Yes, our fan culture is indeed much more relaxed and good-natured than in other soccer-mad countries. But in any given country and culture, if you put crowds of drunk men together and allow them to become angry in the absence of skilful and careful control, there will be madness.
And when drunk men go mad, sooner or later, there will be blood.