Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Soweto's season of discontent: Chiefs, Swallows and Cosmos slump while Pirates fly the final flag

BETTER DAYS: me with coach Zeca Marques in 2013
when Moroka Swallows won the MTN8 trophy
SOWETO, the beating heart of South African football, has never had it so bad. Ask Moroka Swallows fans after the once-mighty Dube Birds plunged in to the third division over the weekend.

Right now, South Africa's most famous suburb are pinning their hopes fervently to the coat-tails of Orlando Pirates.

The SOuth WEstern TOwnship, which emerged in 1904 as an evacuation camp at Klipspruit municipal sewage farm, was always going to be the centre of excellence. Teeming with 904,000 potential football fans - the working classes are footballers, the posh tend towards rugby - the modern game has been dominated by Soweto’s finest for decades.

All over the world, from Rio to Manchester, Jozi to Lagos, it’s the lads from the streets who emerge at the top of the beautiful game, shaking the dust from their boots to earn millions with their feet. Soweto was no different. The great players, the great clubs.

But not this season.

Kaizer Chiefs, who won the PSL with a record 69 points last season, could see that mark broken by new champions Mamelodi Sundowns, who would claim 71 points if they win their final game against Platinum Stars on Saturday.

Chiefs on the other hand need a season-closing win over in-form Chippa United to reach third - they could even slip as low as 5th without it. The title was gone weeks ago, with barely a sigh.

Steve Komphela’s side have drawn 11 this season and offer defensive midfielder Willard Katsande as their top scorer with six goals. They have won ONCE since downing SuperSport United on February 20 two months ago, a run of 12 games featuring a sole (fortunate) 2-1 triumph over lowly AmaTuks.

But while #komphelaout has featured prominently on the social networks, so too has #tinklerout as rivals Orlando Pirates have struggled to emerge from the lower reaches of the PSL after their exhausting journey to the CAF Confederations Cup final.

Tinkler enjoyed a brief recovery - eight wins punctuated by one defeat - and he will finish in the Top Eight if the Buccaneers beat SuperSport United in their final clash on Saturday.

But going in to Saturday afternoon’s soggy Nedbank Cup semi-final against Free State Stars on Saturday, Pirates had slumped once more. They needed a fantastic own goal and a late rally to see off Ea Lla Koto 4-2 and surge in to the final at the Peter Mokaba Stadium on May 28.

While Komphela talks about “playing football on Mars”, Tinkler accepts “We have been disappointing”. Together the Soweto Giants could end trophyless and out of the top three for the first time since 2008. Already Pirates are assured of their worst league finish in the PSL era.

And what about the old giants, Moroka Swallows? We all know the story there. Struggling with the R15m debt left by former chairman Leon Prins, a buyer cannot be found. PSL relegation has been followed by a torrid NFD season of non-payment and coaching merry-go-rounds.

Now headed for the ABC Motsepe League after an unprecedented relegation double, the less said about the Dube Birds the better, though I would ask this: how can the PSL executive award themselves R65m in bonuses when a club like Swallows are struggling?

And then we come to Soweto’s fourth club. Coached by Jomo and owned by Mr Sono. They haven’t won anything since the famous ex-footballer decided to take on all available roles at the club.

Never far from relegation, Jomo Cosmos face a possible points deduction over an unregistered player this week and a final battle against Maritzburg United to stay up on Saturday.

A lost title for Chiefs, a worst ever finish for Pirates, bottom of the NFD for Swallows, possible relegation for Cosmos. It’s not been a great year for Soweto on the football field.

Pirates alone are clinging to the hope of silverware. But to do that they’ll have to beat Stuart Baxter, the SuperSport United coach who took Chiefs to their greatest heights in recent years.

His side’s wet, wet, wet 2-0 win over NFD upstarts Baroka on Saturday was pretty emphatic. At least it ended the debate about how the Nedbank Cup final could be played in Baroka’s hometown Polokwane.

But Tinkler won’t worry about any of that. For him, it’s win or bust. It’s Pirates v SuperSport in BOTH the last game of the NFD and the Nedbank Cup final.

No doubting who holds the popular vote. Pirates can save the season for Soweto. But Baxter won’t mind that.


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