One of Bafana Bafana’s most recognisable supporters Sadaam Maake – a self-acclaimed “soccer slave” – is a familiar face in football stadiums across South Africa.
For the first time in 18 months, he was back in the stands on Tuesday as the country’s national team faced Ethiopia in a World Cup qualifying match at FNB Stadium.
Maake was among a small number who were allowed to watch the clash in Soweto as part of a pilot event for fans returning to sporting events after restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I feel like we’ve finally been released from prison,” Maake, who was wearing his trademark oversized yellow sunglasses and carrying a mock World Cup trophy, told BBC Sport Africa.
“We can finally show our love and support in person. It’s long overdue.”
The FNB Stadium, also known as The Calabash and renamed Soccer City during the 2010 World Cup, has a capacity of 94,000 but just 2,000 vaccinated spectators were allowed in for the game against Ethiopia.
Those lucky enough to get tickets underwent stringent temperature and vaccination certificate checks before they were allowed to occupy their seats ahead of kick-off.
Last month South Africa’s Football Association (Safa) president Danny Jordaan announced free tickets would be available to fans attending the match – provided they showed proof of being vaccinated against Covid-19.
All tickets were snapped up within two hours of being released on Monday afternoon. The decision by Safa and the government to only allow a small number of spectators to see the match left many disappointed.
Jordaan said the pilot was a “resounding success” but the challenge was to get more people into the stadium.
“We’re negotiating with the government to get more fans for the next match against Zimbabwe next month,” he added.
Despite Jordaan’s comments some fans were left disappointed when they arrived at the stadium hoping to get into watch the match.
“I have shown security officials proof that I’m fully vaccinated, but I wasn’t allowed into the stadium,” said Gezhahn Yetay, a supporter of the Walias. “I’m very disappointed.”
Ethiopia lost 1-0 to South Africa and visiting fans believe it is because they were not allowed in
The South African government has been ramping up efforts to boost the country’s vaccination rollout to encourage the high number of people who are still hesitant to take the jab.
Football fans are seen as the perfect target as they have been complaining about not being allowed to support their teams by attending games in the flesh.
The match between South Africa and Ethiopia will be used as a yardstick to dictate how sporting and entertainment events will be carried out in the future, as social distancing remains a problem.
It is hoped that more people will be allowed to attend events of their choice in the near future.