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Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Sunday, 9 August 2009 17:31 UK

Kaizer chiefs return home

The newly refurbished Orlando Stadium
The Orlando Stadium will be used for training during the World Cup

Emotion overcame Kaizer Chiefs legend Lucky Stylianou as he surveyed the refurbished Orlando Stadium, an arena often described as the 'Mecca of South African football'.

With the advent of the World Cup, the Soweto stadium has been spectacularly rebuilt.

The former dustbowl has been transformed into a world-class venue which will stage training sessions for 2010.

In fact, the 40,000-seater stadium is now so impressive it sits at odds on its birthplace.

The modern structure is in stark contrast to the humble houses and shacks surrounding it.

Orlando Stadium became Kaizer Chiefs' first home after the club founded in 1970 and this season, it will once again host matches for South Africa's most popular club.

Both the crowd and game were disappointing as Chiefs began the league with a goalless draw against Santos on Saturday.

However, nothing could dim the memories of those who remembered the arena's heyday.

"During the apartheid era, there weren't many places where all South Africans could get together and enjoy a normal day," says Stylianou, the first white man to ever play for Chiefs.

"Coming back here now is huge, simply massive, because this was the home of football in the 70s and 80s.

"It's a little bit emotional for me seeing the stadium because it doesn't look the same - it's organised and the World Cup has clearly made changes.

It's great to be back because this is where it all started for the team. It's great for us and great for our supporters.

Kaizer Chiefs star Siphiwe Tshabalala

"Yes, it's awesome but there's no little piece showing how it was before - like the sand track and the wire fence which separated the players from a huge crowd."

With a resigned note in his voice, Stylianou admitted that progress is necessary but it's clear much of him still pines for the simple pitch that attracted thousands of fans during apartheid South Africa.

The first big clubs to play there were actually Moroka Swallows and Chiefs' great rivals Orlando Pirates, both soon basing themselves at the stadium after it opened in 1959.

At that time, South African football was separated into colour groups - just as it was when Kaizer Motaung founded Chiefs.

Kaizer Motaung, founder of the Kaizer Chiefs
Motaung says the new stadium is a blessing for his team

With Motaung leading the way himself, the 'Amakhosi' won plenty of trophies at that time, so nostalgia was heavy in the air on Saturday as Chiefs returned to their spiritual home.

"This stadium has a lot of significance for me because I used to play here in the 60s and 70s so it's a way of coming home," Motaung, who once turned out for Pirates, told BBC Sport.

"I think it's great for the fans because they can just walk to the stadium now, instead of taking 2-3 buses to reach other arenas.

"Without the World Cup though, I don't think we'd be here so that's been a blessing for us."

Until the World Cup draw is made in December, it's impossible to know which teams will train in Orlando - but locals will obviously be hoping for the likes of Kaka's Brazil or Lionel Messi's Argentina.

It will be just another step in a long road for a stadium replete with history, one which was used as a rallying ground during South Africa's troubled past.

"Orlando Stadium … was a beacon of hope as the Struggle against Apartheid raged on for decades," stated Kaizer Chiefs' programme on Saturday.

"There are even unverified stories of how some of the money made at the venue was used to fund … the armed wing of the African National Congress in their fight against the racist government of the day."

One undisputed fact is that, in 1973, the stadium hosted the first match in South Africa between a professional white team and South Africa's black footballers.

But with the apartheid struggle long gone, the main challenge for Chiefs now is to attract full houses at their historic home.

"It's disappointing not to have had a full house tonight but I think it's because we haven't been putting it together on the field for the last two years.

"We need to get back to our potential," says Stylianou of a Chiefs side bidding for their first league title since 2005.

Chiefs will play here for at least the next two years, the timing of their departure depending on when they can move into a new purpose-built stadium 25 miles west of Johannesburg.

And during that time, they will hope the Orlando Stadium can reawaken in them the magic, the support as well as the titles of yesteryear.

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see also
2010 World Cup's transport legacy
23 Nov 08 |  African
SA hit back over 2010 World Cup
11 May 07 |  World Football
SA giants suffer FA Cup defeats
21 Mar 09 |  African

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