The former breeding ground for the likes of soccer greats George Lebese, Bongani Khumalo and Tiyani Mabunda, as well as legends such as Mark Fish and Deshi Bhaktawer, now breeds drug addicts rather than footballers.
In addition, the drug users have started stripping it of infrastructure – and glory. Vandals have made off with the crossbar of one goal post.
Situated in the heart of the city, the stadium has been home to Arcadia Shepherds Football Club for more than a century. It is recognised as one of the oldest football stadiums in the world.
Caretaker Jabu Mahlangu said addicts were helping themselves to anything they could take, in particular steel and metal, which they sell in order to make money and feed their cravings.
Mahlangu explained that the most recent problems faced by the stadium started two months ago when two gaping holes were opened in the fence alongside Francis Baard Street. Ever since, he said, there had been frequent movement in and out the stadium, with drug users taking security doors, door handles, podium seats and soccer kits.
“I could not believe my eyes when I saw that the crossbar had been stolen. We have had a lot stolen in the past months, but the crossbar theft was just uncalled for,” he said.
A lack of maintenance and vandalism had left the stadium in a bad state.
The grandstand was falling apart; barbed wire had been used to secure spaces where toilet doors and windows were removed.
“I’ve tried my level best to deal with these vagrants, but they keep on returning and stealing.
“They literally steal anything they can lay their hands on,” said Mahlangu, who lives on the stadium grounds.
But he is not the only one living at the stadium. Unwanted guests have also shacked up at the facility.
Blankets, food containers, used condoms and faeces are a common site near one of the buildings inside the stadium.
“At night I hear voices of what I think are prostitutes or drug users roaming around the building. I have tried calling the police, but they never come.”
Arcadia Shepherds coach Dennis Maduna said the state of the stadium seemed to be getting worse and nobody was taking action.
He feared that someone might get hurt inside the stadium if the situation was not addressed as a matter of urgency.
“Drug addicts walk through the stadium while we train it’s not safe. Players can barely concentrate with so much unwanted activity around them. The stadium has become a shortcut from Francis Baard to Pretorius streets.”
Club boss Lucky Manna accused the City of neglecting the stadium’s facilities. He said that for years the toilets had not been functional.
He said they had even had to improvise and install pipes for the toilets. “It becomes a mission hosting games at this stadium because of the lack of functional facilities.”
Nowadays, Arcadia finds itself in a predicament where money has to be raised to survive. With no financial sponsor, the club relies solely on donations. This is a far cry from decades ago when it had a professional wing.
Last year, retired Bafana Bafana centreback Mark Fish, also an old boy of Arcadia, carried out a clean-up campaign at the stadium through the Mark Fish Foundation.
He said he wanted to raise funds for the stadium and admitted he was disappointed by the state it was in. “I grew up in Sunnyside. I played football here as a young boy and they gave me the opportunity to be the person I am today. I have fond memories of the Caledonian, hence I want to revive the place.”
Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture MMC Nstiki Mokhotho was unaware of the recent spike in crime at the stadium. She pledged to look into it, but was unable to divulge the fate of the stadium.
The former ANC-led administration wanted to turn the venue into a R100million inner city park. That decision was overturned by the DA-led City government, with mayor Solly Msimanga assembling a task team to safeguard the stadium to ensure it remained a sporting field instead of becoming a park.
The City said it was in talks with SuperSport United, with a view for the club to have residency at the stadium once it had been upgraded.
The stadium, built in 1903, has been neglected over the years with no electricity or a proper sewerage water connection system since 2012.