Sunday, 8 May 2016

A TALE OF TWO CHAMPIONS: Leicester and Mamelodi both won 3-1. But the similarities end there.

WE SHALL NOT SLEEP: Andrea Bocelli at Leicester's King Power Stadium

Ah, the Saturday of Champions. On consecutive channels, courtesy of SuperSport television. We saw the champions of England and South Africa, Leicester City and Mamelodi Sundowns, both surge to convincing 3-1 wins just days after being crowned champions of their respective nations. But apart from the scoreline the two events had little in common.

Those football fans fortunate enough to afford DSTV’s mushrooming monthly subscription surely won’t have missed the yawning chasm between two title-winners on the Channel of Champions.

On channel 203 we had the glory of Leicester City. Confirmed as champions earlier in the week, the Year of the Fox went in to full swing at about 4pm. After days of massive celebrations in pubs and gathering places around the midlands town, their clash with Everton was pure joy from start to finish.

With tickets for their crowning glory being touted for R20,000, the King Power stadium was packed to the rafters with 32,524 fans carrying co-ordinated blue-and-white flags.

Global tears were shed when Italian classical tenor Andrea Bocelli, a man who lost his sight in a footballing accident, fulfilled his promise to coach and compatriot Claudio Ranieri and serenaded the football-speaking world with Nessun Dorma (Never Sleep).

Nobody slept. Top scorer Jamie Vardy scored early on, then smashed home one penalty and sent a second over the bar, whistling towards Uranus. The town of Leicester, thrust in to the spotlight, didn’t give a damn. They’re in the Champions League next year.

It’s been that kind of week. Owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha didn’t just buy a R700 000 Mercedes for every player, he also provided free beers and fresh pizza for every fan.

Exactly 8 328 miles and one channel away at the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville near Pretoria, it was free tears and frozen Pitso for a paltry crowd without flags or razzmatazz on DSTV 204 at 5pm.

Up against the Ghanaians Medium SC, a dour 80 minutes was spent trailing by an away goal before top scorer Leonardo Castro, player of the season Kharma Billiat and sub Cuthbert Malajila banged home three in 7 minutes to unearth a 3-1 first leg triumph in the CAF Confederations Cup.

But even after that late landslide, it was impossible to miss the stark contrast between the two events which kicked-off within half-an-hour of each other. Both Leicester and Pretoria are cities more famous for their rugby teams than their football clubs.

With the Tigers and the Bulls over-shadowed, Leicester and Sundowns made history this week. The Foxes won their first title in 132 years. Mamelodi celebrated their record seventh PSL title.

But while Leicester are at the centre of their community, the old HM Pitje Stadium in Mamelodi remains unused, caught in the middle of a political quagmire between the council and billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe.

No fans, no razzmatazz: Mamelodi Sundowns
With a paltry crowd less than 10 percent of the gathering at Leicester, there was simply no razzmatazz - not even Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula - to provide South African football with a touch of joy.

No flags, no champagne, no fireworks. Nothing.

Pitso Mosimane tried to lift the mood of course. His post-match summary of Sundowns late rally was hilarious. Looking to find out just how he managed to lift Masandawana after a dreadful first half, South Africa’s most successful homegrown African coach told us:

“It was very naughty. But my players are still celebrating, they are only human. At half-time, I didn’t say a word. I promise you. I sat in my corner and drank coffee.”

And really, that sums up our Saturday of champions. Leicester went out and told the world they were champions with free beer. Mamelodi sat in their corner and had a cuppa. It’s got to tell you something about the state of our football.


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