After more than two decades, South Africa's biggest grudge match, the Soweto derby, is set to make an emotional return to its inaugural stage. Indeed, the country's two most popular clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, will collide at Orlando Stadium, where their rivalry began, on Saturday. Predictably, tickets for this heavyweight collision sold out four days in advance.
Situated at the heart of the Soweto township in Johannesburg, Orlando Stadium is fondly referred to as the spiritual home of South African football. It was used as a training venue during the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, and will serve the same purpose at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. But although the Soweto Derby began there, the fixture was moved to bigger stadiums around Johannesburg to accommodate the huge crowds it attracted.
This latest battle will give both sides the chance to kick-start their seasons. It will be a "special occasion" according to Kaizer Chiefs captain Jimmy Tau, who is one of the few players to have made the switch from the Pirates to their arch-rivals in the last decade. "The stadium is a special place in South Africa. We have never played Pirates there, so this match is special for both sides. I guess we will all be a bit emotional when we enter the field to play in this game. We have a lot of respect for Orlando Stadium, we have a lot of love for this place."
One man who made his name at the venue is former Orlando Pirates player and African legend, Jomo Sono. He played his first game at Orlando Stadium when he was only 12, and participated in numerous Soweto derbies there.
"Orlando (Stadium) is home of football in this country, it is our own Wembley (Stadium)," he said. "Growing up in Soweto, in the tough times in South Africa, we all wanted to play at Orlando Stadium and I was fortunate to play there."
The rivalry between the two sides can be traced back to the early 1970s, when the Chiefs were formed after breaking away from Pirates. The split was initiated by, among others, now-Chiefs coach Kaizer Motaung, who had been one of Pirates' stalwarts.
Nicknamed 'The Factory of Dreams', Orlando Stadium previously provided a setting for several players to establish themselves as household names in South Africa, and Bafana Bafana legends often reminisce about performing at the the stadium.