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

CityPress - - Sport -

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.

PHO­TOS: LUCKY NX­U­MALO

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

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