Thursday, 16 May 2013

Stuart Baxter: an apology. And a massive pat on the back as Kaizer Chiefs are crowned PSL champions

Major celebration: Scorer Majoro leads the way in Polokwane last night

SO it’s done. Kaizer Chiefs grabbed the point needed to clinch their first Premier Soccer League title in eight years and a vast AmaKhosi gathering in Polokwane were able to dance Wednesday night away.

Predictably, Gavin Hunt’s SuperSport United refused to let the title-winning evening become a romp and the 1-1 draw at the Peter Mokabe Stadium means Chiefs failed to win in their last five games – but still they were crowned champions with one game to play against AmaTuks this weekend in Mbombela.

The Nedbank Cup final on May 25 at the magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban will once more pit Stuart Baxter against Hunt. Clearly, the Chiefs double will not be a doddle.

But really, that’s the point. For years, many have doubted the authenticity of South Africa’s premier division. Like the NFD just below it, the game has long been scarred by rumours of corruption, match-fixing and referee-hugging.

No more. The title run in saw both Soweto Giants tripped up again and again by teams with absolutely no right – in terms of wages, playing staff and fan base – to deny champions Orlando Pirates of glory-reclaiming Kaizer Chiefs.

But they did. Relegation threatened Capetonians Chippa United and Ajax Cape Town BOTH pulled off shock wins a fortnight before the title was decided. Again and again both the AmaKhosi and the Buccaneers were unable to force home the advantage. Referees stood firm, the opposition gave their all – particularly at Platinum Stars, where Cavin Johnson has produced a side capable of taking on the best and finishing second in the PSL.

The days when Chiefs, Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns could expect their opponents to lie down or a referee to award a few dodgy penalties appear to be behind us. While Germany, Spain, England and Italy saw their domestic leagues decided weeks before the end of the season, in South Africa Chiefs had to battle to the final days.

The scenes after the AmaKhosi success warmed the heart. The self-styled “family business” were on parade, with founder Kaizer’s iconic daughter Jessica joining her brothers Bobby and Kaizer Junior to add their words of congratulation.

Doc Khumalo, forced to take charge with Baxter suspended and communicating by cell phone up in the director’s box, was effusive. Local politicians jostled for air-time, to share in the riiiiise of the AmaKhosi with their estimated 15m fans.

In England, both Dean Furman, Gary Lineker and dozens of others expressed an interest via twitter – though it had to be explained to some that Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa were the inspiration behind the British pop group Kaiser Chiefs rather than the other way round.

And there was me. Eating humble pie. In August last year, when Chiefs were soundly thumped by Johan Neesken’s Sundowns 4-1, I wrote this as we reeled after Baxter’s disastrous opening foray.

With clear evidence of CV inflammation and signs of early lack of communication and understanding of the “South African footballing style” it appeared the man from Wolverhampton would be thrown to the wolves.

Instead, he bounced back almost immediately, with Bernard Parker scoring four times in the opening trouncing of AmaZulu. And they never looked back, losing just twice all season as Jessica’s “reclaiming the glory” motto came gloriously to pass.

I have just sent an SMS to Stuart, hoping to talk to him on what promises to be a busy day of interviews and congratulations.

I have spoken to him since I wrote those early pieces, but I’ve never really been able to say: “I got you wrong Stuart. I’m a doos/twat.” Which is what I must do later today, if he rings back.

In the meantime, as I said last week, I hope Baxter gets the chance to build on this title – as the first foreigner to win the PSL in his inaugural season he certainly deserves an extended tenure.

He has spoken of development structures at a club where the academy was closed down due to age cheating. He has talked of developing a style of play at a club which has seen a rapid turnover of coaching staff.

Now it’s Baxter to the future. Time to create a legacy. Time to shrug off the early critique. Sir Alex Ferguson was written off in his early years at Old Trafford but went on to win 13 titles and 38 trophies in 26 years.


  1. Enjoy your humble pie.. Cnt keep a good man down

  2. wow Neal. I read this with emotions due to takes a brave, humble, intelligent and highly experienced journo to write such a piece. Especialy in making an apology. Many hane failed and we(the peace loving people) stil await their piece of this nature. I take my hat off to u the writtings of SA football, its men like you we need. Prior to Baxter's response...Apology accepted. @herbert_hlahla

  3. We accept your apology Neal, at least you've manged to see your mistakes & you are acknowledging them.. Now we'll be waiting for other journo's like Jonty & BBK who were also on Stuart's case eversince he signed a contract with Kaizer Chiefs!

    #Glory Reclaimed