Comi­tis: The boss who has seen and done it all in the diski game

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

Foot­ball writer ROD­NEY REIN­ERS sat down with Cape Town City owner John Comi­tis to chat on a wide range of is­sues. else­where in the Cape.

So, in nam­ing the new team Cape Town City, Comi­tis wants to shed that bag­gage and draw to­gether foot­ballers and sup­port­ers of ev­ery creed and cul­ture be­hind the new club.

Top-level player, vi­sion­ary foot­ball ad­min­is­tra­tor, in­spi­ra­tional club boss and in­dus­tri­ous busi­ness­man, Comi­tis has seen and done it all. We know you weren’t born in South Africa. Tell us a bit about your back­ground and how you ended up in the Mother City. In 1920, my grand­fa­ther em­i­grated from Greece to Leopoldville, now known as Kin­shasa in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo. My father’s par­ents then lived in Mozam­bique and both my par­ents went to school in Jo­han­nes­burg as board­ers.

They got mar­ried in 1960 and moved back to Kin­shasa, where I was born. At the age of 12, I was sent to board­ing school in Jo­han­nes­burg – to St Johns Col­lege (he ma­tric­u­lated in 1980). I then at­tended Wits Univer­sity and grad­u­ated with a BSc in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing. I played foot­ball for Wits dur­ing my var­sity years – I re­ceived full blue colours at var­sity). On my re­turn from two years play­ing in Europe, I moved to Cape Town to open the first Steers fran­chise (in Sea Point) with Ari Ef­s­tathiou in 1988. I’ve been a proud Capeto­nian since then. Most peo­ple know you as a foot­ball ad­min­is­tra­tor, but you played the game at a high level as well. Give us some in­sight into your play­ing ca­reer. I turned out for the Wits pro­fes­sional team in the NPSL, and played in the BP Top 8 fi­nal in 1984. I then had a one sea­son stint with Jomo Cos­mos – I re­mem­ber train­ing three morn­ings a week in­di­vid­u­ally with the great Jomo Sono in Mead­ow­lands, Soweto, in the height of apartheid era. I went on to play for Korinthos in the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion in Greece, play­ing a cup fi­nal against Olympiakos and los­ing 6-1.

I re­turned to SA in 1987 and moved to Cape Town to start the Steers fran­chise in 1988, but kept on play­ing for Hel­lenic. I then joined Cape Town Spurs and had a brief spell with Vasco da Gama in my last year as a player. I then pur­chased Cape Town Spurs with my brother Ge­orge and the Ef­s­tathious, from David Rod­well after he had just won the dou­ble in 1995. A suc­cess­ful busi­ness ca­reer fol­lowed. How did you go about achiev­ing that? We had the rights to the Steers/ De­bonairs/Block­buster Video/ Wimpy fran­chises for the West­ern Cape and built up the brand to ap­prox­i­mately 120 stores be­fore we sold it back to Fa­mous Brands. Dur­ing that time, we en­tered into prop­erty own­er­ship and we also pur­chased CT Spurs, which was later to be­come Ajax Cape Town when Rob Moore in­vited me to merge Spurs with his Seven Stars. Cape Town Spurs was the first club you pur­chased in the late 1990s. Why did you de­cide to ven­ture into foot­ball own­er­ship? With our grow­ing Steers em­pire, and hav­ing played at the high­est level in SA foot­ball, I re­alised that Spurs and any pro­fes­sional team in SA was al­ways go­ing to be news­wor­thy and pop­u­lar. This meant that we could lever­age our brands and busi­ness pro­files through the sport. Spurs did ex­actly that for the Comi­tis/Ef­s­tathiou fam­i­lies. When we bought the club, it was the be­gin­ning of the time when TV rights were be­ing sold to the SABC, which meant we would have the fund­ing to op­er­ate the club, un­like in pre­vi­ous years. I called Jomo Sono one evening and asked him what he thought of the pos­si­ble pur­chase and his an­swer was: “You Greeks know how to smell money.” We closed the deal with David Rod­well that same week. You, with Rob Moore, were in­stru­men­tal in the es­tab­lish­ment of Ajax Cape Town. Tell us how this came about. When we bought CT Spurs, Moore’s club, Seven Stars, were still in the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion. I then re­quested Rob to loan me Benni McCarthy, He came onto the scene at Spurs and set the foot­ball fra­ter­nity alight.

In a short spell of six months, he be­come the most sought- after player in the league, sink­ing Kaizer Chiefs in their back­yard 2-1, scor­ing both goals. Rob took Benni to Ajax Am­s­ter­dam and trans­ferred him from Seven Stars for a fee that I can tell you will still be high in to­day’s terms.

Spurs didn’t get any part of that but what I did get was an in­vite by Rob a few months later to merge our two clubs into one, and get Ajax Am­s­ter­dam to buy into the fran­chise.

At that point, I in­formed Rob that I could not do this with­out my brother and the Ef­s­tathious, and that they would be shar­ing my stake in the ven­ture. Ajax Cape Town was born, with Rob and I as joint CEOs. Two years later, Rob sold his shares to us. You would may not want to re­veal too much about the feud with the Ef­s­tathious (cur­rent Ajax own­ers) that led to you sell­ing your shares. But, in a nut­shell, what’s the ba­sis of the dis­pute? It’s best to let sleep­ing dogs lie… You are back in the PSL, hav­ing bought the fran­chise of Black Aces and es­tab­lish­ing Cape Town City. How tough, and ex­cit­ing, is it to start a top-flight club from scratch? It has been an in­cred­i­ble chal­lenge, but re­ally re­ward­ing at ev­ery turn to see how much sup­port and en­cour­ag­ing mes­sages I have re­ceived ev­ery step of the way. This has, un­doubt­edly, been the hard­est I have ever worked at a busi­ness, pri­mar­ily be­cause I feel I am car­ry­ing the as­pi­ra­tions and hopes of so many play­ers as well as the Cape Town foot­ball-lov­ing pub­lic. There is no room for er­ror. This is Cape Town City FC – the city’s team. What are the im­me­di­ate plans for City this sea­son, and what can we ex­pect on the field? We need to sign 10 play­ers to add to the 14 that made the jour­ney from Mpumalanga.

We still need a Cape Town flavour and an in­ter­na­tional flavour to bal­ance the squad into a foot­ball force. We are look­ing at get­ting the fans back to foot­ball first and fore­most, and that will fuel the per­for­mance of the team. Hav­ing been on the PSL ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee for a num­ber of years, and closely in­volved with the in­ner work­ings of lo­cal foot­ball, just how much has the game and its ad­min­is­tra­tion im­proved? We have one of the top leagues in the world. It’s well- funded, or­gan­ised and with the best TV footage in Africa. We will keep grow­ing… when I started as an exco mem­ber in 1998, the league rev­enue per year was a to­tal of R4 mil­lion. You now need to add about eight ze­ros to that… As an ex-player, you are also a keen stu­dent of the game. So what would you say are the main short­com­ings of foot­ball in SA? Crowd at­ten­dances have been an enigma, cou­pled with the only dis­ap­point­ment I have is that we didn’t cap­i­talise on the 2010 legacy to en­sure ev­ery PSL club ended up with its own sta­dium/fa­cil­i­ties. We are still gyp­sies in our own back­yard in many re­spects. How, there­fore, can we im­prove the qual­ity of the game in the coun­try? Acad­e­mies of ex­cel­lence in ev­ery ge­o­graphic re­gion with like play­ing against like. For ex­am­ple, when Hel­lenic Un­der13 beat their coun­ter­parts 12-0, there is no de­vel­op­ment or im­prove­ment. What do you think has to be done in SA foot­ball to get more of our lo­cal tal­ent at over­seas clubs? It is not for the lack of tal­ent or skill. The prob­lem is that tal­ent alone is not enough – men­tal strength and physique play ma­jor roles in mak­ing the com­plete player to­day. The de­vel­op­ment of the two as­pects starts at a young age and be­comes an in­te­gral part of the player’s make-up. Add our diski skills to that, and we could be­come world-beat­ers – if we get it right. Who is your all-time favourite foot­baller in the world? Lionel Messi. If you could change one thing in foot­ball, what would it be? Make the ref­er­ees pro­fes­sion­als. Pay them big bucks, give them one-year con­tracts with an op­tion to re­new, de­cided on by a panel of top foot­ball a dmin­is­tra­tors. Then watch the re­sults when the Davids take on the Go­liaths… Are you glad Sepp Blat­ter is gone? I’m a bit in­dif­fer­ent. But he de­liv­ered for Africa, and we must thank him for that. What is the best goal you’ve scored? When I chipped the goal­keeper from about 40 yards at Hart­ley­vale for Cape Town Spurs against African Wan­der­ers. What is the best goal you’ve seen scored? Eder of Brazil – when he chipped the ball in full flight to him­self, and then hit it on the vol­ley into the top cor­ner. How does the PSL com­pare with the leagues around the world? We pay our play­ers – ev­ery month, ev­ery team. You can’t of­ten say the same for Spain/ Greece/Italy and all the Balkan coun­tries, to men­tion a few. We know Cape Town City are keen to use Cape Town Sta­dium as a home base. How would you like to see the city get in­volved to show their sup­port for foot­ball? CT City is po­si­tioned to cap­ture the hearts of all Capeto­nian foot­ball and sport lovers. The city has a duty to fa­cil­i­tate this and to en­er­gise their in­volve­ment by reignit­ing the 2010 fan­care at­ti­tude and ethos. We have a great shot at filling this sta­dium and cir­cu­lat­ing rev­enue to all sec­tors of the econ­omy, restau­rants, bars, MyCiti bus, taxis, trains and ho­tels… and, most of all, the city can con­trib­ute to true Cape Town pride! Who were your favourite Hel­lenic and Cape Town Spurs play­ers? Ge­orge van der Burg (Spurs) and Taswald Hu­man (Hel­lenic). Tell us a favourite story you’ve heard about Frank Lord (the for­mer Cape Town City coach). He coached Spurs also for a short spell and we trav­elled to Africa for a Caf Cup match. The play­ers were so ded­i­cated to him that, when he gave in­struc­tions, all play­ers al­ways put in their best.

We were hav­ing a flush ses­sion at the pool of the ho­tel ... Frank Lord said: “Right, all jump in”… so in they all went, in­clud­ing Patti Lokose, who couldn’t swim. Manny Rodrigues had to pull him out from the bot­tom of the pool, such was the power of Frank Lord – play­ers would give their lives for him. And a favourite story about Budgie Byrne (for­mer Hel­lenic coach)? Budgie never had pa­tience for tri­al­ists. He pro­tected his squad once he had selected it. Once, there were three for­eign tri­al­ists wait­ing to train with the team. They were just kick­ing the ball around on the Hel­lenic train­ing field while the squad was in the chang­in­groom. Dur­ing the time, Budgie walked from his car to the change- room, he called the three lads and said: “Right, guys… I’ve seen enough, thank you, you can go.” It was dif­fi­cult to get in with Budgie but, once you were in, he be­lieved and pro­tected his play­ers . Who do you think were the three best play­ers at Euro 2016? Pepe, An­toine Griez­mann and Gareth Bale. Tell us some­thing about your­self that few peo­ple know about. My favourite TV doc­u­men­taries are about wildlife… In your opin­ion, who is best young South African player around at the mo­ment? Dun­can Ado­nis. Watch for him in Cape Town City colours this sea­son. Tell us the last dish you would like to eat be­fore you move on to the next life. Moambe – a Con­golese dish made from African palm tree oil. Rihanna or Bey­once, and why? Bey­once… size. Can the Storm­ers win Su­per Rugby? Let’s hope so…

JOHN COMI­TIS: Would of­fer ref­er­ees ‘big bucks’ and one-year deals, then watch the re­sults when the Davids take on the Go­liaths.

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