Job done, but more to do
The fact that two NFD clubs have won the PSL promotion play-offs and made it to the Absa Premiership makes a mockery of the contentious format, writes Timothy Molobi
This week’s promotion of Highlands Park from the National First Division (NFD) to the Absa Premiership has once again intensified calls for the play-offs to be scrapped and the format to revert to a two-up, two-down system. The intense desire and the effort that NFD clubs put into getting promoted defeat the purpose of the play-offs, which were meant to help prevent clubs in the top-tier league from being relegated.
One of the joys of watching a game at the Makhulong Stadium is that there are no suites, and I had the rare opportunity to watch the game with some VIPs.
The Premier Soccer League play-offs between Highlands and Mbombela United, viewed alongside the club’s directors, proved to be a breathtaking experience. I was exposed to the stress and the emotions of being attached to a team.
There were too many coaches in the stands that day. Every bad move or pass was met with groans of disapproval.
The VIPs gave instructions from the grandstand, oblivious to the fact that they would not be heard from so far away. But that did not discourage them. They kept on shouting, despite the messages reaching only those close by.
The early goal of the match seemed to settle their nerves because Mbombela needed to score twice to Highlands’ one to spoil the party.
But as the game went on, it was evident their nerves were getting the better of them – particularly with United pushing so hard for the equaliser.
As time ticked on, the directors were wishing for the end of the game. With the scoreline at 1-0, every United attack was met with complete silence, mute prayers, nail-biting and the occasional kick in the air in an attempt to block the ball – they knew an Mbombela goal would change everything.
Then Highlands scored the second insurance goal and all hell broke loose. The score secured them Absa Premiership status and they hugged, kissed and leapt for joy.
It was the moment they had been waiting for and they all – the directors, their kids and their hangers-on – dished out high-fives. The final whistle was met with more celebration.
“Please write that we scored six and did not concede any goals in our games,” I was instructed. But the job starts now. Club directors Sinky Mnisi and Larry Brookstone didn’t mince their words. They said they were definitely going to beef up the squad and were quick to put off potential buyers: they would not sell the club.
“We don’t want to be a yo-yo team; we are going there to compete,” said Mnisi.
The two directors have Premiership experience and hope to use it effectively to help the Lions of the North stay in place. They both said they missed Premiership football and they hoped to make their stay a permanent one.
Highlands will use Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa as their home venue, with Sinaba Stadium in Daveyton as their alternative ground.
Mnisi, who knows the league through and through after his stints with the now-defunct Tembisa Classic and with Jomo Cosmos, conceded it would be tough.
“It’s a completely different ball game there. We already have the coach’s wish list, which we have been working on. To survive in this league, you need to be streetwise and work hard. Our secret to success has been sheer guts, hard work and determination, and we will continue with that. Whoever undermines us will do so at their peril. We are going to compete and make a statement, not just to add numbers.”
Brookstone, who sold his Platinum Stars shares in 2008, said he was in the Premiership to stay.
He said he would not sell again after having gone through it twice.
“I missed top-flight football, especially the adrenaline that comes with it.
“When I sold Platinum Stars, I didn’t realise the big void it would create in my life. The first six months were okay, but afterwards I really missed it, especially things like working with the players, buying and selling of players, and the whole dynamic of club ownership.”
He said the NFD was the most difficult league and he did not want to go back to the it again. But he agreed that the Premiership would not be easy.
Brookstone believes that Highlands, a club that boasts a rich history and heritage in South African football, belong in the top-tier league.
They used to be a force to be reckoned with in the now-defunct, whites-only National Football League (NFL) and the multiracial National Professional Soccer League (NPSL).
They were the last side to win the NFL title in 1977 and enjoyed considerable success in the NPSL until the early 1980s, when Jomo Sono purchased their status and renamed the club Jomo Cosmos in 1982.
Brookstone said the club would add more excitement and value to the Absa Premiership than some clubs that currently make up the elite division.
PROMISED LAND Highlands Park players celebrate after gaining promotion to the Absa Premiership
THINK-TANK Three of Highlands Park’s board of directors (from left), Larry Brookstone, Bradford Kaftel and Sinky Mnisi, have big plans for the club