Kaizer Chiefs Football Club is arguably South African football most supported club. The club is commonly known by its nickname Amakhosi, which means “chiefs” in Zulu, the fans attachment is unrivalled. If you are a football fan, at some point, you’ve no doubt heard someone say “football is my religion”. And when I follow sociologist’s building blocks for religion, I have come to find that football is not far from religion at all.The ongoing African Cup of Nations has seen flags symbolising unity in the followers, the collective cheers and groans as the game proceeds, the adorning of the symbols of the team they support, and for European football leagues like English Premier league, the inevitable fact is that fans will do it all again every weekend, next month and perhaps for the rest of their lives.It was in this context that I set out to uncover the relationship that Amakhosi fans have with football, how the relationship with the teams they support and their symbols compares with those of fans from other clubs, and they choose to court their relationship with other teams.My initial findings set out to discover how Amakhosi engage in the following of team through the shirt. While it is true that through the professionalisation of football codes the shirt is yet another form of commodity that is packaged and sold to fans, with Amakhosi, the shirt is a battleground where club supporters can contest authenticity that is, how true a fan they are. This is normally the case during Johannesburg derby which pits the club against their arch rivals Orlando Pirates.There have certainly been cases, specifically in the South African football, where fans have used the shirt to display both their genuine relationship to the club by wearing nostalgic colours and acts of defiance against commodification of their beloved club.
But, just how important is the shirt to Amakhosi? In a survey of 20 Amakhosi fans that I know all too well, I discovered that while many owned the shirt, most did not place significant importance on owning the shirt as a fan. On a scale from one to nine, one being not very important, five being somewhat important, nine being very important, 8 of respondents said it was not very important, while rest scored less than five. Surprisingly, less emphasis was placed on adorning shirts with player numbers and special badges and close to half of them said it was not very important and more than three quarter scored less than five.Interestingly, when comparing location of Amakhosi fans, say one in Johannesburg and the other in Cape Town, the difference between scores is not significant, indicating that fans across do not see owning the shirt as a symbol of importance in being Amakhosi fan.Interestingly, from the 20 fans, my finding showed that Amakhosi fans who were willing to frequently wear their team’s jersey when they went out for a beer or to watch a movie, for example, felt more attached to their jersey than those who did so less often, or not at all.As I dug deeper into the data, I began to notice differences between location of fans and, more specifically, cities.Using the same 1 to 9 scale aforementioned, I asked respondents to nominate how attached they felt to Amakhosi. From their responses I was able to see that there was really no difference in attachment between fans of Amakhosi in different regions of South Africa, with each fan rating their attachment as approximately nine.
However, when comparing cities of residence, I discovered some differences between them. For instance, Johannesburg, with a median score of nine, were more attached to Amakhosi than Durban, who scored a median of seven.Why this is the case is difficult to say, yet Amakhosi is a South African club? Perhaps the attachment to club is greater in places where Kazier Chief do not need to jockey for attention, such as in the Johannesburg, where the team dominates major population areas.On the other hand, fans from Port Elizabeth and Pretoris are likely to be less attached to Amakhosi shirt than fans from Johannesburg. In South Africa, football itself is a diverse and divisive term that many will argue about for hours, including arguing over which is the better club.One of the other interesting discoveries I made was regarding the use and uptake of social media as a way to perform a type of football punditry with like-minded fans. Social media, especially for Amakhosi, has become a major contributor to the game itself. Most Amakhosi fans now market hashtags for specific games where tweeters can get their opinions read out between halves on radio or television.The advent of social media also means that after games, when paid pundits place their thoughts in online environments, eager armchair critics can debate Amakhosi results with each other long after the final whistle has blown. This helps explain how advanced into the digital age soccer has reached, especially the major football leagues like South African Premier League or local club competitions like popular Telkom Knockout. However, it could be the case where perhaps Amakhosi fans are just more likely to banter online afterwards.