7 April 2009
The refurbished Free State Stadium officially opened its gates this past weekend with a double dose of action: the Super 14 match between the Cheetahs and Brumbies on Saturday, followed by the Premier Soccer League clash between Bloemfontein Celtic and Orlando Pirates on Sunday.
The venue will host matches in both the Fifa Confederations Cup and the Fifa World Cup. Its reopening was enthusiastically celebrated by Bloemfontein’s sports fans, who got to see the Cheetahs play their first home match of the Super 14, and Celtic, with its strong home support base, face Pirates, one of the best supported teams countrywide.
There was a fun-filled air of celebration during the Super 14 match on Saturday, and even more so on Sunday for the PSL clash between Phunye Sele Sele and the Buccaneers, which drew about 46 000 fans.
The crowd was made up predominantly of the fans of the home side, with the green-and-white hooped jersey in abundance among the supporters, who sang with lusty enjoyment.
‘Ready for the Confederations Cup and World Cup’
A huge banner in the crowd read “Bloemfontein Celtic FC. Siwelele Sa Masele. Ready for the Confederations Cup and World Cup”.
The benefits of the Confederations and World Cups were not only in evidence at the ground, however; new hotels and businesses have sprung up, including one that opened three weeks ago less than a kilometre from the Free Stadium.
For visitors, the area surrounding the Free State Stadium is dominated by other sports grounds, including an international-standard athletics track; the OUTsurance Oval, which is home to the Eagles’ provincial cricket team and hosts international matches; tennis courts that have in the past hosted ATP Challenger events and big provincial tournaments; and just a short hop away a swimming complex that has also hosted numerous large events.
The Loch Logan complex sees shops surrounding the waters of the man-made Loch and the Bloemfontein Zoo is a short walk away.
‘Service levels … extremely impressive’
Service levels throughout the city were extremely impressive, with a sea of smiles and attention to every request given – with hotel staff even ringing up their guests in their rooms to check if they’re comfortable – this without any prompting.
About 70 kilometres away, Tshediso Leeuw’s entertainment centre was also a hotbed of activity, with business booming as locals watched the city’s sporting action on a big screen in what is sure to be a popular public viewing area during the Fifa Confederations Cup 2009 and 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Since opening his establishment in 1994, Leeuw’s staff compliment has grown from two to 23. He is confident that the Confederations Cup and World Cup will mean further growth for his business.
“I know many people around here won’t be able to see the live games,” he explained, “so we have put up a big screen and people can watch the games and be entertained at the same time.
‘The vibe is totally African’
“We’ve got a braai (barbecue) going and the vibe is totally African, like no other. We will be doing this on a bigger scale for the Confederations Cup and for 2010,” he said happily.
Just what does big football mean for a businessman like Leeuw? He described its effects: “On a normal Friday and Saturday we have between 200 and 250 people, but now there are more than 400 people partying ahead of the Celtic/Pirates game.
“This is a trial run and we are looking forward to showing the international fans, when they come from the Confederations Cup and 2010, how we do soccer here in Africa.”
Leeuw also owns a grocery store and a liquor store, which are located next to his entertainment centre.
Dreams coming true
“My dreams of growing my business and helping my community, as well as seeing this place full of people enjoying themselves, are coming true,” he said.
“I know for the Confederations Cup there will be even more people here and we are looking forward to being good hosts to the international fans so they can also enjoy our African hospitality.”
A popular slogan for the Confederations Cup says “Ke Nako” – it’s time. Time to host the champions”.
Bloemfontein, known as the city of roses, is ready Confederations Cup. The towns surrounding it are ready too, if the case of Tshediso Leeuw is indicative of the state of preparedness and enthusiasm for the event in the Free State.
The municipality under which Bloemfontein falls is known as Mangaung. Its motto is “a city of the move”. No doubt, in June, when the Confederations Cup takes place, with the Free State Stadium hosting four matches, much of that moving will be happening in the stands as fans of the ‘beautiful game’ sway in unison and yell out their support for the champions of Fifa’s different confederations and the home favourites, Bafana Bafana.