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Football Thuggery - a long time coming!

Last week's stoning of the Zambian team bus by two naughty youngsters - aged 12 and 13 - took many by surprise, including me. But then I thought about the many other indiscretions by spectators at stadiums over the years and it hit me - no pun intended - that this has been a long time coming.

In the past decade in South African football, we have witnessed intolerable and violent behaviour by spectators who invade pitches either in celebration or in protest of what has transpired on the field.

Throwing missiles is fast becoming the country's number one sport. Who can forget when Kaizer Chiefs was charged by the Premier Soccer League after one fan threw a cabbage onto the pitch?

How objects such as cabbages, loaves of bread, fireworks and impepho (traditional incense), which have nothing to do with cheering a team on, make it through the turnstiles boggles the mind.

In what is known to many veteran football supporters as the "Golden Era" of players, whenever a goal was scored the fans would celebrate by running across the pitch like a human tsunami with their fists in the air. One could argue this was part of SA football culture then, as vuvuzelas are today. I say it was acceptable then, but times have changed and so should the behaviour of spectators.

Who can forget when seats at FNB Stadium were set alight by disgruntled fans during a Soweto Derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates in the mid 90's? SA football has not recovered since those days, despite seeing the Chiefs-Pirates once volatile rivalry becoming more of a money-spinning camaraderie.

In recent times, Mamelodi Sundowns fans who have massive expectations of their star-studded team, have being quite frank with their coaches when the results are not forth-coming.

The notorious football lovers plunged the Tshwane team further into crisis when they showed their displeasure at the 2-0 loss to Moroka Swallows recently by storming the pitch and threatening Coach Johan Neeskens. Neeskens is the latest in a long list of Sundowns mentors who has experienced the strike of a Vuvuzela on his head first-hand. Coaches in the recent past, who have been forced to quit after being threatened by Brazilians fans, include Henri Michel, Hristo Stoichkov and Antonio Habas.

Pirates have seen their fair share of fan trouble. I still remember when the Buccaneers fans failed to contain their ecstasy, when their team finally won its first league title in almost a decade. They staged the mother of all pitch-invasions! The following weekend though there was no such indiscretion by fans in the Nedbank Cup Final against Black Leopards in Mpumalanga, as security was tight and riot police were on standby. It was not long before history repeated itself, when the Soweto giants outplayed Bidvest Wits in Durban to win the Telkom Knockout final. Recently the "double treble champions" landed in hot water with the PSL following violence when SuperSport United dumped the Sea-Robbers out of the MTN8. The violence saw the helpless Matsatsantsa supporters seeking refuge on the field behind the security barrier. Chiefs have also seen their fans breaking from their motto of "Love and Peace" on many occasions.

In Bafana's game against Zambia there was also security drama inside the stadium when heavyweight striker Collins Mbesuma scored what was subsequently the only goal of the game. A few ecstatic Zambian fans had to be restrained when they attempted to storm the pitch in celebration.

Fans who bully others by not sitting down during games and those who refuse to sit in their allocated seats have not been dealt with for years.

The culture of hooliganism has been simmering in SA football for years now and what happened to the Zambian team is a sign of a new generation of football fans who refuse to accept that in a game, their favourite team cannot always win. In fact that team will inevitably lose sometimes.

The attitudes of not accepting defeat by some supporters, coupled with fewer resources to control spectators inside and outside match venues are just some of the reasons that many decent football lovers prefer not to take their families to stadiums to watch games live.

By not addressing the problem of bad spectator behaviour inside and outside our world class stadiums, the PSL, its clubs and SAFA will only been seen as condoning the thuggery that is slowly tightening its grip on our football and tainting the image of the country so soon after the 2010 FIFA World Cup and just months ahead of the 2013 African Cup of Nations.

Lelo Mzaca is an Eyewitness News Journalist.

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