UK vs WP vs Sharks fans …

The Sharks fans in Cape Town seem happy to support their team no matter what, while the Stormers fans in Joburg seem to want a stake in how the team is run. Which is right asks Tank Lanning in his column?

If the Bulls played the Cheetahs in the Super Rugby final in Auckland or Sydney, would the stadium be full? Or what about the Chiefs playing the Crusaders at Loftus? Or a Currie Cup final between the Sharks and WP in Windhoek?

I realise it is a slightly different animal, but is it not quite astounding that the Aviva Stadium in Dublin was completely jam packed for the Heineken Cup final between two French clubs, Toulon and Clermont Auvergne?

Sure the flow of players between countries represented by the Heineken Cup clubs makes for Baa Baa like teams such as Toulon, and most clubs are a John Daly drive away from each other, but a Toulon fan wanting to get to the Aviva stadium for the final would have needed to either fly in, or drive the 1888km (using two ferries) which a distance calculator website suggests would take 19.1 hours. That takes some proper commitment!

And while there were plenty Clermont and Toulon fans at the ground, the majority were no doubt Irish rugby supporters keen on seeing a great game of rugby. And boy did they get it … You could smell the passion on display here in South Africa!

So why do the UK fans fill their stadia every week, no matter the sport, league or the results, and seem willing to die for their team and players, while SA fans seem happy to ditch their team when results go the wrong way, and think they can do better than the current players, coaches and administration?

Do they have fans, while we have supporters? Is our TV experience too good? Is our stadium experience too crap? Or is it just simply a culture thing?

I have been giving this whole “Sports fan/supporter” thing some thought for a while, and after being cc’d on mails from seriously disgruntled members of the Joburg Stormers supporters club, seeing the “Cape Crusaders” manifest in Cape Town, chatting to the Sharks supporters club in Cape Town, who celebrated their 15th year of existence this week, hearing the booing at Newlands, and reading of the fatal attack in Durban, I thought I would dig a little deeper.

What drives people to attack the opposition team’s supporters? Why do they boo? Do they have the right to get upset with coaches and players? Should they not be supporting their side no matter what? How responsible to the fan are the unions, players and coaches?

In his book, The Anatomy of Sports Fans, author Pierre D. Bognon says fans are generally viewed as obsessed individuals: people who have an intense interest in a certain team, celebrity, band or similar, often viewed as somehow deviant, and portrayed as either the obsessed loner or the frenzied crowd member. Being a fan is not just a label or a category, it is also an identity. And what, if any, rights come with that identity?

A sense of belonging and community has always been a part of the attraction of being a sport fan, hence geography playing it’s part.

And why do some fans almost condone the doping seen from the likes of Lance Armstrong and the bending of the laws by Tukkies in the Varsity Cup? Bognon reckons fans know about drugs and cheating, and they may even be concerned about it, but not enough to stop attending or watching games. People just want to see the game!

So on the one hand, you have the Sharks supporters in Cape Town, who seem inclined to trust the suits, coaches and players, supporting the team to the hilt, to the point of getting defensive should anyone say anything negative about the team. Perhaps more in line with the UK supporters, where extreme support / fanaticism can lead to violence between supporters – NOT that I am suggesting this to be the path chosen by this incredible bunch of people 🙂

And on the other hand, one has a group like the Stormers supporters in Joburg, who now do not agree with, or trust the suits, and want answers from the coaches and players for the poor performances on the field. So seemingly willing to give all they have in support of the team, but with a view to that support earning them a stake in how the team is run.

Which is better? Is one more correct than the other? Has the management style of the two unions played it’s part in how the supporters clubs have panned out? I would say so ….

What type of fan are you?


  1. Im not a fan I am a Supporter. I support first my country, then my province which is WP. I was born here and grew up supporting WP Currie Cup teams. I could not imagine supporting any other team.
    I have to admit that since the new Conference rugby started I have noticed more aggression between SA fans. Its no longer an us (SA) against them (Aus and NZ). I sat in my local pub the other day, the two owners are Bulls and Sharks. Stormers were playing the Canes and the guys were all shouting for the Canes and laughing when the Stormers cocked up……..That in my eyes is NOT cool.

    I think people have forgotten what it means to be a supporter. I have so many mates who support the Bulls because of Brandy and Coke and Steve Hofemeyer but they have never been to Loftus and grew up in CPT. In fact I have photos of some of them in WP rugby tops at Newlands games when they were younger. Now WP is crap and they hate the Cape Town teams……..Yet they still live here.

    I ranting but you get the idea.

    1. I hope you are not saying most people supporting the Bulls outside of Pretoria do so because of Brandy and Coke or Afrikaans music.

      The planet is getting smaller, and people move frequently. The place you grow up is often not where your parents come from.

      Furthermore, in our day and age branding is important. Supporters associate with a team because of branding, friendship, or because they can relate to some aspect of the culture, as they perceive it, and many other reasons.

      How many Man U supporters in SA ever lived there? You may even wear a Craven week shirt because that was the only one you could qualify for, and then support a different team when you grow up. Or maybe all your childhood friends turned out idiots, now you wear a new team’s colours.

      Have a look on news24 and read some comments. You will see Stormers supporters shouting for NZ or Aus teams against the Bulls is the norm, even when it is detrimental for their own team’s situation.

      I cannot recall watching a Bulls game when Stormers “pals” did not support the NZ/Aus team.

  2. Tank it is all about knowing your place in the pecking order. In Cape Town we have established the culture of a family type venue where like minded supporters can meet to support the brand. Of course we have our ups (which we enjoy) and our downs (too many I am afraid) but we are human and feel the pain.
    We sometimes mutter about selections and playing style ……. but could we do better.
    Obviously not, so we suffer in silence (some of the time) but continue to support our team through the good and bad and leave the cursing and moaning to others.
    We simply try to show respect to the people who have been empowered to be
    in the front line because we know we cannot do better individually and we know that the wheel will turn and our day will come. That is the story of life.

    What divine rite does the Stormers Gauteng Supporters have to criticise the Stormers/WP brand.
    Are they qualified coaches. Do they know the rules. Do they understand the dynamics in running a business such as rugby. I personally have doubts
    when I hear some of the inane complaints dished up from time to time.
    Everyone knows all is not well at Newlands ( I will not go into that) but what good
    will it bring to the party by washing your dirty laundry on the electronic media sites.
    If you want to make a difference, do it at source. Come and apply for the Job of Coach or financial officer or CEO or whatever area it is that you are complaining about instead of standing on top of a mine dump some 1000 kilometers distant and mouthing off.
    Personally I am a Sharks supporter but I have tremendous respect for the WP/Stormers brand. The public love it, the journo’s love to write about it. There is a certain romance about the hoops that will long after the Gauteng moaners
    have moved on to their happy hunting grounds.

    1. I cannot wait for the Shark Supporters in Cape Town to start moaning about the Sharks to hear you then. WHO are YOU to criticise? Everyone is entitled to an opinion. How you choose to hear it is your choice. Gauteng Stormers fans have as much right to say what they want when they want as anyone else in this country. The Stormers need new coaches. Simple as that. Get in someone who knows what they are talking about. I suggest Nick Mallett on a long term contract.

      1. MDK …. good point but believe me the CT Sharks fans do have a voice, they have many varying views. They are often more down than the Stormers fans. They just do not do it so vocally in public forums as the guys up north seem to do.

  3. I have always supported WP rugby because of the brand of rugby they played. My support for the Stormers has been waning for 3 years now. Despite the obvious talent we have in our backs they just haven’t done anything. There is nothing wrong with the players. There is plenty commitment, yet it’s not inspiring to watch. Winning isn’t everything. I would rather watch and support a team playing good running rugby than one intent on forming a driving maul at a lineout on the tryline. If you can remember Carel du Plessis or Neil Burger running at Newlands you will also remember that someone passed the ball to them in space. (well with Neil Burger he didn’t need space…. he’d just drag them all over with him)

    As for some isolated incidents at stadia? The vast majority of people who go don’t experience this. A friend from England who visited a Stormers match which they lost in the last minute was amazed that there wasn’t a riot instead of everyone peacefully filing their way home.

    BTW… my jaw was also on the ground when I saw there wasn’t an empty seat in the house in Dublin.

  4. Ye cannae talk about ups and downs, FS/Cheetahs fan here. It pains me to see empty seats in Bloem when the Cheetahs are at home, especially seeing the rugby we’re playing right now, and it’s not just a few neither, whole swathes of the stadium are empty. Also, I’m Irish born and raised, we were not going to pass up the opportunity to watch some top quality rugby. I’m a rugby fan first, then Ireland and the Boks, then Munster and the FS/Cheetahs. A lot of Irish fans assumed that one of the provinces would have made the HC final, so they bought tickets as soon as they were released. If our own province doesn’t make it, we just flog the tickets to the other province’s fans, but in this case it was Clermont and Toulon, two fantastic teams with great players (DA and MP aside), chances to watch such a potentially great game do not come around that often.

  5. I think it’s about spending power. Those are all first world countries with first world facilities. Sure, some of them are in economic crisis, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that more people can afford to go to the games.

    I also don’t think that the people in Europe has to pay the equivalent of R600 just to be able to watch rugby of any kind on television. I think most people want to get the most out of their satellite investment and going to the stadium each week would add a lot to the expense of being able to watch live rugby.

    1. Great point re TV Gert. Our TV experience is good, if expensive, while the stadium experience is expensive, and without good public transport, is a pain in the butt. It is a culture thing as well though …

  6. I think it has a lot to do with climate. there’s not a helluva lot to do there as a rule because it’s so miserable.
    Yes, we are fickle but as big a supporter as I am, when the rugby dished up is garbage and the weather is great and something else is on the go I’ll live not having seen it. And that has only happened in the last few years. In the past no one would dare try and get me to do that something else unless that something else involved the watching of rugby as well. Now all i sometimes need is a score and that’s probably more for my Superbru than anything else.

    Don’t get me wrong, I still love sitting down and watching my team. But as someone in retail and all the games are on Friday morning I have to work out the important and the urgent.

    And on the stadium thing the behaviour at Newlands definitely puts me off. Having some fool carrying on behind you makes me ill.

    My son is at a prominent Southern Burbs school and there was a fight amongst parents the other day. I mean seriously, do these people know that the stat is less than 1% make it as pros? Get a life watch some great rugby and chill out your son might not be that good.

    I’ve been asked to make a waterpolo coaching come-back and take the u15A team and in my 40’s my biggest fear is dealing with OTT parents, not sure if I’ll have the tolerance.

    Sorry about the “off at a tangent” post

    1. Such a good tangent point Steve … There was a great piece on Facebook recently by SACS coach Graeme Wepener on exactly this … Over zealous parents can actually ruin a trip to watch a schoolboy game … We seem to have lost the simple enjoyment factor

  7. every supporter/fan is an individual. i’ve met great and ghastly supporters of every franchise and it has nothing to do with the team.

    from my 5 years living in the uk and going to football matches the fans/supporters there are far more obsessed about their teams than we saffers are. everyday after work my colleagues went to the pub and talked about their teams. they argued about club players from the 60’s and who would be the best players in 10 years to come. at this point in time most south africans have more to do in life than spend hours in the pub every day debating which highschool players will be the next stormers greats. but that doesn’t stop them from being passionate supporters. south africans have great trust issues. and as a stormer i don’t trust Thelo Wakefield.

    1. You suggesting we are a more advanced society Dan 🙂 …. Perhaps we are! But as also mentioned by Steve, given the climate, we actually have more on offer here on SA, so rugby competes with all entertainment these days

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