Wednesday, 13 July 2016

BREAKING EVERY RULE IN THE BOOK: weep no tears for Free State Stars and Aces, the PSL rolls on

SALUTE! Dr Irvin Khoza, PSL chairman
for 20 years, in a military uniform for no
apparent reason 
BILL SHANKLY, the legendary Scotsman who managed Liverpool from from 1959 to 1974, once said: “Football isn’t about life and death. It’s more important than that.”

Fortunately, South Africans don’t live by that code. Money is our God.

In large swathes of Europe, Latin America or even Asia and parts of northern Africa, your football club is your identity. It’s what defines you.

On a social night out, you will wear you team colours with pride; it says something about you, offers an instant introduction. Football is your small-talk, your bed-and-breakfast… in some nations like Spain, Egypt and Scotland, it signifies your tribe, your roots, your religion.

But not in South Africa. Here we don’t have segregated crowds, we don’t divide home and away fans on the way out of the ground with mounted police… and we don’t scare visiting teams when they visit our land for continental competition.

South African football is devoid of passion, wearing a football shirt, though still common, has little to do with identity or outlook. Ultimately, nobody cares. Our national football sides under-perform, our PSL attendances are at an all time low, the president of SAFA is almost entirely absent and openly admits “football is just my hobby”.

Football is the beautiful game, the global passion. But somehow, amid the more obvious horrors of Apartheid, we failed to pick up the essence of the game here at the southern tip of Africa.

Sound harsh? This off-season we found out just how little football means to the average South African. While our cricket and rugby types tend to stick to their local province like glue, we have seen two historic soccer clubs shut down and the very idea of hard-won promotion to the top flight dealt a fatal blow.

There has been no outcry, I have yet to spot an Mpumalanga Black Aces or Free States Stars fan, let alone a protest march packed with them.

Last year, when relegated Amazulu tried to purchase financially troubled Aces for R80m, the PSL rightly denied them the chance to buy their way back. Looking at this FIFA directive distributed in 2007, it’s easy to see why:

But this bleak mid-winter, things have taken a turn for the worse. First PSL executive member John Comitis, having left Ajax Cape Town after falling out with his in-laws, was allowed to buy Aces from the Morfou brothers for a price believed to be in the region of R50m.

He kept 14 of their players, released last year’s PSL top scorer Collins Mbesuma and moved the club 1000km south and renamed them Cape Town City. They already have a kit sponsorship and will spend the next 10 months attempting to destroy the established club in the Mother City.

As I speak, Technical Director Craig Rosslee admits the club need another 10 players to start the season. And former Orlando Pirates coach Eric Tinkler, neatly swapped with Aces boss Muhsin Etrugral at Aces, is sifting his way through a legion of cut-price journeymen to fill the gaps.

Then last night we had Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi telling Metro FM: “I have saved Moroka Swallows, we are back in the PSL” while refusing to divulge the name of the selling club, the name of the resurrected team and admitting: “The real Swallows will remain in Division Three, we will tell the fans that on Sunday”.

In all my footballing life, I have rarely heard such gushing nonsense from both Lesufi, an ambitious ANC politician, nor his interviewer Robert Marawa. He was asked no searching questions, just patted on the back and told he was a hero destined for the presidency.

BUYING FAVOUR: Article 30 of the NSL's rule book
In fact, he is an elected official breaking FIFA and SAFA rules, but that's not new in this country. Like everybody else, I was sad to see Swallows, an historic Soweto club, slip in to the NFD and then the ABC Motsepe League in successive seasons. Quite where Mr Lesufi was when debt-ridden owner Leon Prins was looking for help over the last two seasons, nobody knows.

At one point, during their NFD relegation battle last season, he said: "Perhaps Swallows need to be relegated again."

On Metro on Tuesday night, we heard Lesufi admitting: “We cannot be called Moroka Swallows in the PSL, but we want to keep the team colours, the bird on the badge and we’ll play at Dobsonville” while neglecting to mention their average crowd over the past five seasons in under 400 (I’d give an exact figure but the PSL keeps these things in the file labelled TOP SECRET).

When Comitis was allowed to buy Aces, the PSL told us he wasn’t really buying promotion, he was stepping in to save a failing business. It’s a very delicate argument, easily knocked down.

But what Lesufi has done, spending an estimated R55m to buy Free State Stars’s place in the PSL, breaks every rule in the book.

As I write, Orlando Pirates - whose elderly chairman Irvin Khoza has run the PSL with an iron hand for 20 years - have already snapped up three Ea Lla Koto players for free with the official announcement of the deal still pending.

Just as with the Ertugral/Tinkler swap, Pirates appear to be the major footballing benefactors with Ayanda Nkosi, Justice Chabalala and Sello Japhta all headed for Parktown with unseemly haste. The little stars of Bethlehem are falling fast.

Free State Stars meanwhile, having announced the arrival of new French coach Denis Lavagne barely a fortnight ago, are believed to be plotting the purchase of NFD club Mthatha Bush Bucks and hope to win the NFD before anybody really notices they’re gone.

I’ve got this picture of Lavagne calling his assistant Bradley Carnell in the morning screaming: “Bradley?! I am at ze training? Where is ze club? Iz gone! Sacre bleu!”

And Moroka Swallows or whatever they’ll be called? No players, no coach, no kit… just a month before the new season. With Gordon Igesund likely to return the Dube Birds, his agent Mike Makaab will no doubt sort out a squad of talented veterans and tough journeymen to do a job.

But for Free State Strars, whose website still talks about the arrival of Lavagne and the player for pre-season not to mention the local Mayoral Cup, there is nothing.

The side finishing 12th in the PSL is GONE. Aces, who finished a record fourth last season? Gone. And Cape Town City will apparently take their place in the lucrative MTN8 pre-season tournament, which must be galling for those who finished below them.

With Highlands Park and Baroka FC promoted, the PSL fixture list will take on a bizarre new look. There will be a Cape Town derby, Roger de Sa against Eric Tinkler, Comitis v Efstathiou, but that’s all Greek to me. Will the “Oldest Soweto Derby” see Moroka Vultures against Orlando Pirates? What happens if Comitis and Lesufi get relegated? Can they just pay to stay up?

The questions are endless. The PSL are talking about kicking-off the new season after the Olympics with midweek games in August. The transfer window is devoid of any real spending. Chippa United, though pleading poverty, have signed 17 new players, including three international selected Orlando Pirates youngers. Dr Khoza has allegedly handed out millions to club chairman to keep the wheels turning.

The NFD remains sponsorless, with a R400,000 prize, while the third division Motsepe League offers a million to their champions. We start the season without a SINGLE South African in the English Premier League, a first in my memory, and even China aren’t buying our locals.

But we soldier on. Lesufi’s Vultures under Igesund may surprise us, Tinkler’s City may overwhelm the odds, Baroka FC might finish above Kaizer Chiefs, who threw out 20 players and signed eight journeymen. Highlands Park v Orlando Pirates sounds like something out of the 80s.

But I've said this all before. There's just one question which needs answering: Why was Lesufi allowed to buy Free State Stars’ place in the PSL when Patrick Sokhela’s AmaZulu were denied the same right a year before? I think we should be told.


  1. Yyyaaaaa......this is sad.

  2. What must happen with all the jerseys supporters have bought with their hard earned cash. I am not against the selling of clubs but totally against relocating a team from its origin. There is no team in Mpumalanga now as Mbombela United failed to get promotion and the other was sold to Cape Town Mafias. The Free State derby is no more. Dr Khoza always emphasizes the culture of the English, on how they buy a new born a team regalia of a local club. He is the one who denies South Africans the opportunity to adopt that culture. He is the reason we don't see full capacity stadiums. Pirates have benefited from the defunct teams. Once a mafia, always a mafia. They break all the rules in the book. From FIFA statutes to PSL rules.