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Johannesburg Derby - Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


The rivalry between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates
As with many countries around the world, South Africa has one showpiece club match each season that brings the nation to a near standstill - the traditional derby game between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, the two most popular clubs in the country. This is a rivalry that continues to capture the imagination of the country and divides people into two distinct rival camps.
Unlike many of the traditional derby games in world soccer, this is not a match pitting different cities, people, cultures, religious affiliations or languages against each other. Truth be told, there is actually rather little that's obvious to distinguish Chiefs and Pirates from each other - save for the not insignificant fact that Kaizer Chiefs was actually born of a breakaway from Orlando Pirates.
Both sides have their roots in Soweto, the sprawling township on the edge of Johannesburg from where much of South Africa's soccer tradition stems. Both share a history against the background of apartheid, where there was little opportunity for black footballers in a racist South African sports set-up and both have long been a refuge for the fantasies of millions.
Pirates were formed in 1939 and are among the oldest surviving clubs in South Africa. They have always been regarded as 'the people's team'. The club was formed to keep youngsters from Orlando out of trouble by providing them some organised activity. Pirates also offered boxing as an alternate sport in the early days. Lifelong supporter Rankus Maphisa says: "The men who started Pirates were concerned about young boys - you couldn't be wild when they were around, you couldn't act bad." The club built itself up into a soccer powerhouse with supporters not only in Soweto but nationwide as well.
Kaizer Chiefs formed about 30 years later, composed of leading members of Pirates who broke away from the club. Pirates' most popular player Kaizer Motaung, who had been playing in the United States for the Atlanta Chiefs, formed his own invitation team to play friendly matches around the country in the off-season. The matches were called 'stake games', where organisers put down prize money for the winner. Pirates objected to this team but Motaung persisted and eventually broke away with several officials and teammates.
His 'Kaizer XI' evolved into Kaizer Chiefs, which fast became a side of glamour and achievement. In many ways, Motaung represented the achievements possible for black youth in South Africa despite the shackles of apartheid.
"We always tried to be one step - even more - ahead of others, both in the way we played the game and in the way we projected ourselves to the public," says Motaung, still running the club more than 30 years later.
Today the contrast in image remains the basis of a great rivalry - the workmanlike attitude of Pirates against the glamour of Chiefs, the proletariat against the aspirational classes.
It is an absorbing conflict that plays itself out in spectacular and colourful fashion at least twice a season.
In 2001, sadly, the officials and fans of both clubs had tragic cause to pull together after a stadium disaster at a derby fixture at Ellis Park resulted in the deaths of fans in attendance. With both clubs contributing to the effort to ensure there would never be a repeat, the greatest rivalry in South African football temporarily took a breather as South African soccer fans united around common interests.
There is little doubt though that the rivalry that continues to capture the imagination of South African soccer fans will resume in the course of ongoing competition. Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates - like Rangers and Celtic; Manchester United and Liverpool - undoubtedly continues to be one of the legendary rivalries in world football today.



Mark Gleeson, June 2001

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