The Nelson Mandela Challenge football match between South Africa and Egypt scheduled to take place at Brentford’s Griffin Park stadium on Wednesday November 15th is in danger of being called off. Two weeks ago, the South Africa Times announced that this annual fundraiser would be moved to London for the first time “to raise its profile,” but, with the game less than a fortnight away Brentford claim to have received no more than a preliminary enquiry, the organisers are apparently still searching for the required funding and the South African Football Association (SAFA) has banned journalists from asking questions about it.
While still looking to raise a total of around £250,000 in sponsorship for the occasion a spokesman for organisers Star Meridian appeared confident when he told Metro FM radio “We have already confirmed a contract with SAFA and the match will indeed take place at Griffin Park on November 15. There will be bad publicity here and there but I'm convinced the game will go ahead.” SAFA Chief Executive Officer Raymond Hack was more guarded: “At this stage they [Star Meridian] have done everything we asked, bar financial guarantees. I can't say the game is in danger of being scrapped or not because as is standard practice, we have to sign everything first.”
Some in the South African media seem keen to decry both organisations for what The Star described as “a shambles looming”, but we feel they are jumping the gun. Nick Said in the Mail & Guardian dismisses Star Meridian as an organisation “whose only apparent "achievement" is the failure to organise a match between Ghana and Nigeria in August.” Clearly nobody told him that when Nigeria pulled out of the fixture only a couple of weeks before the game Star Meridian arranged for Togo to replace them and we can attest first hand that the evening, despite a few hiccoughs, passed off successfully.
The Star Meridian representative, though, may have been a little overenthusiastic in claiming an “understanding” with Brentford on the basis of that occasion. Brentford’s Communications Manager, Peter Gilham, told Business Day “We still have not heard anything from them since [an initial approach]. We have been waiting for confirmation from them for a while now.” Several outlets report that enquiries to Brentford’s ticket office about the proposed game are receiving blank replies, though Star Meridian are urging potential purchasers to contact them directly.
Our opinion is that the game will take place once some hard bargaining has been concluded behind closed doors, but we are disappointed at the standard of some of the reporting regarding Brentford and its stadium. The South African media would have you believe that Brentford United (ouch! – iafrica.com) of the English Second Division (no! – Daily News and SABC News) play at Griffon Park (argh! – SABC News) in the north of London (oo! – Cape Times) where apparently only a disrespectfully limiting 12,000 supporters can watch the match, a complaint for which we might have had a bit more sympathy had we not been present amongst the 16,108 souls brimming over the, err, 19,000 capacity Loftus Road for South Africa’s 1-0 defeat to Australia in March 2004. For a fixture with Egypt in mid-November 12,000 sounds about right to us. Even so, when they read Peter Gilham’s assertion that “There has been a lot of talk about this stadium over the past few days — we have a world-class stadium here,” even hardcore Bees regulars might fail to suppress a brotherly “Steady on.”