Orlando Stadium has long been regarded as one of the most sacred arenas in South Africa. Situated at the heart of the country's biggest township, Soweto, it has now re-opened its gates to football following a reconstruction, and will be used as a training venue for the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
The new-look Orlando Stadium will form part of South Africa's FIFA World Cup legacy project, which is aimed at improving the nation's sporting infrastructure, specifically in disadvantaged areas.
Nicknamed 'The Factory of Dreams', it previously provided a setting for several players to establish themselves as household names at a time when conditions were relatively harsh in South Africa.
Bafana Bafana legends often reminisce about the Orlando Stadium, which once hosted an historic match between South African black and white XIs during the apartheid regime.
It also gave birth to the country's biggest rivalry; one shared by Soweto giants Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
"For me, it's emotional to see the stadium re-opening its doors," said Lucas Radebe, who, as a kid, spent many a Saturday and Sunday there. "It is a special stadium, not only to me but to all South Africans. It is something that we can all be proud of after the 2010 World Cup." Jomo Sono, Kaizer Motaung, Ace Ntsoelengoe, Doctor Khumalo and Radebe are among the many legends who launched their careers at Orlando Stadium.
Former South Africa international Marks Maponyane, who, in his career, turned out for both Pirates and Chiefs, revealed his emotion at seeing the stadium open again. "It brings back all the memories for me and I'm sure for many football supporters," he said. "It's a special venue, the people of Soweto love it and I think it will ignite the passion once again in Soweto, especially with 2010 around the corner."
Orlando Stadium was built in 1959. It was initially meant to isolate black people, but soon became the hub of South African politics and a secret gathering place for some activists. In fact, it was after the 1976 Soweto uprising that the then-government decided to close the stadium for a period as punishment to the boycotting students.
In the late-1990s, Orlando Stadium's conditions deteriorated, forcing subsequent closure - a move that was greeted by an outcry from football fans in Soweto. It has since undergone major renovations, including an improved football surface and an increase in capacity to 40,000. Approximately R234 million was spent on the facelift.
Orlando Stadium now boasts state-of-the-art facilities and although it needs final-touch ups, it will certainly bring back fond memories to the locals who once packed the stands each weekend.