A South African soccer player, Orlando Pirates striker Thamsanqa Gabuza, staged a walk-off midway through a league game on Tuesday after being taunted by his own team fans, who were booing him and calling for him to be substituted in the first half after a series of early misses.
Thamsanqa Gabuza set up a goal near the end of the first half — an own-goal by opposing team Black Leopards — and, in part celebration, part defiance, he took off his shirt, threw it at a section of his fans and walked off the field and down the tunnel.
Before he left the field, the South Africa national team player sarcastically applauded the supporters, waved at them, and then made a signal referring to a substitution.
As he headed to the tunnel, Gabuza was angrily confronted by his coach, Milutin Sredojevic, who shoved the player in the chest and shouted at him. Gabuza’s teammates also tried to pull him back onto the field. He refused.
The situation became even more bizarre when Gabuza returned to the side of the field early in the second half limping and with his right leg bandaged, claiming he was injured.
As he sat in the dugout, the referee came over and showed him a yellow card for removing his shirt in the first half, and a second yellow for leaving the field without permission, sending him off.
Gabuza got up and, with the help of a team official, limped back to the tunnel.
“In 25 years of coaching I have never seen (this),” Sredojevic said in reference to Gabuza walking off. “But a bit more patience, a bit more support to the team would be very much welcome.”
Orlando Pirates won 2-1, only a second win in five league games this season, despite playing the rest of the match with 10 men after Gabuza walked off in the 35th minute.
The 31-year-old Gabuza has scored only eight goals in five years with Orlando Pirates, one of South Africa’s biggest clubs, and has been targeted for abuse by Pirates fans before. Yet he has a good strike rate for South Africa’s national team, with six goals in 16 appearances.
Black Leopards coach Joel Masutha said he “can’t condone” what Mabuza did.
“At the same time, maybe it will send a message to supporters that, emotionally, they are killing their players,” Masutha said.
Former Pirates striker Andries Sebola said Gabuza was “stupid” and should be punished by the team and the league, which hasn’t commented on the incident.
South African soccer fans can be unforgiving if their club underperforms, sometimes with more serious consequences.
Angered by their team’s struggles, hundreds of supporters of Kaizer Chiefs, the Pirates’ biggest rivals, rioted at a game in April, assaulting security guards when they couldn’t get to the players and setting parts of the stadium on fire.