Barney Simon gets the nod as a Lions 'Super Fan'

Barney Simon gets the nod as a Lions 'Super Fan'

In this second feature in the series Trevor Cramer chats to lifelong Lions 'Super Fan' Barney Simon.

Barney Simon Lions
Photo: Trevor Cramer

The Lions are performing admirably on their Australian Super Rugby adventure at present and were runners-up to the Hurricanes last season.

But for Lions ‘Super Fan’ Barney Simon it hasn’t always been miles of smiles.

In August 2012, the Jo’burg franchise ended bottom of the Super Rugby log for a third time in five seasons.

The Lions were relegated and ceded their position in the southern hemisphere’s marquee rugby competition to the Southern Kings from the Eastern Cape.

Thankfully for Lions fans, that misery lasted just one season for the faithful Lions fans and they regained their place in Super Rugby in 2014, beating the Kings in a two-legged playoff.

Prior to that, he was steadfastly behind the Cats (a franchise amalgamation between the Lions and the Cheetahs between the 1998 and 2006.

It was also an agonising period for the Ellis Park faithful, as the Cats finished bottom of the table six times and reached two semi-finals before the Cheetahs broke away to form their own franchise in the Free State capital.

But Barney and the legions of Lions fans never abandoned their team and stuck with them through the rough times as the Johannesburg side transformed from a Currie Cup-winning team into a Super Rugby force under the guidance of head coach Johan Ackermann.

They fell just one match short of winning the Super Rugby title last season, losing 20-3 to the Hurricanes in the final, defeating both the Highlanders and the Crusaders on route to the final.

Popular radio personality Simon lives, eats, sleeps and breathes Lions rugby and has done so since his late father used to him and a group of rugby-mad youngsters to the then Ellis Park to watch Transvaal (now Lions).

He also played rugby for the Diggers club as a teenager and his love for his team just continued to grow.

To this day Barney rarely misses a game at Ellis Park (now known as Emirates Airlines Park) and will never forget the day he treaded upon that hallowed turf as a young Diggers lock forward in his youth.

He remembers the ‘Golden Generation’ of Lions/Transvaal rugby very fondly -- a team, led by Francois Pienaar -- that became a massive feeder to the World-Cup-winning 1995 Springbok team.

The names of players who have worn the famous red and white jersey reel easily off his tongue as the memories come flooding back.

For Barney, a visit to Ellis Park, often referred to as ‘The Home of SA Rugby’, remains as exciting today, as it was all those years back when his Dad took him and his mates to rugby on Saturday afternoons.

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With its braai areas, food stalls and beer gardens in the heart of the city, surrounded by sky scrapers, Barney is adamant that a visit to Ellis Park remains the ultimate fan experience, in and out of the stadium.

He even recalls the days when a Metrorail train used to stop at Ellis Park Station in Doornfontein and masses of fans used to pile out of the carriages from east, west and beyond and descend on the stadium.

“When I drive up from Joe Slovo Drive (formerly Harrow Road) towards the stadium, I still get goose bumps,” says Barney.

Barney feels, despite winning form and momentum, the Lions are still a way off peaking this season and brackets them among the ‘outsiders’ to go all the way.

“Nobody remembers who finished second really,” concludes Barney.

For Barney and the thousands of loyal fans who have stuck with the Lions through good and bad times, second place was a massive leap when one considers the road that the Lions have traveled since that fateful, misguided decision by SA Rugby in 2012.

Follow Trevor Cramer on twitter @CramerTF

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