For the un­der­dogs of foot­ball, the jour­ney is the prize


The most fa­mous pic­ture in Boks­burg foot­ball his­tory is also the most mis­lead­ing. It is a snap of the elec­tronic score­board at the Jo­han­nes­burg Sta­dium on the af­ter­noon of Sep­tem­ber 1, 1996, and it is glo­ri­ous: “Kaizer Chiefs 0, Boks­burg FC 1.”

Kenny Pat­ter­son had scored for Boks­burg FC in the 13th minute of their last-32 match of the BobSave Su­per Bowl match in New Doorn­fontein. The Boks­burg fans in the 6,000 crowd at the sta­dium went wild. The Blues from Boks­burg were 1-0 up against the mighty Chiefs. It was glo­ri­ous.

Could the ama­teurs from the East pull off the great­est shock of the sea­son, if not the decade or, pos­si­bly the cen­tury?

Well, no. Two min­utes later, Tha­bang Lebese scored the equaliser, the first goal of his hat-trick as Chiefs went on to win 7-1. Ac­cord­ing to the late Ben Mo­holoa in The Sowe­tan of Sep­tem­ber 2, Chiefs could have dou­bled their score “had their strik­ers not de­cided to en­ter­tain the crowd with ex­ces­sive drib­bling”.

Neil Amoore wrote in The Cit­i­zen that if it had not been for the goal­keep­ing of John Niel­son (who kindly shared the clip­pings of the match), it could have been “much worse”. Niel­son pulled off a “great save” from a penalty in the 86th minute to deny Chiefs de­fender Ja­cob Tshi­sevhe some glory.

Ship­ping seven goals may not be some­thing you tell the grand­kids, but for two min­utes, 120 fleet­ing and yet ev­er­last­ing sec­onds, Boks­burg led Chiefs.

The early rounds of cups are the realms of hope and dreams, of big days out for clubs held to­gether by love and a shoe­string, of dan­ger­ous days for big clubs wary of trip­wires. Heck, the lat­ter rounds can be big days.

Ask Nigel Clough, son of the leg­endary Brian, who got stuck 9-0 by Manch­ester City in the first leg of the semi­fi­nal of the Carabo Cup. Get­ting his team to the sem­fi­nal was a feat in it­self. The pic­ture of Clough laugh­ing with Pep Guardi­ola after the game marked the mo­ment.

“He said: ‘Come in for a glass of wine.’ I hope he’s got more than a glass,” said Clough. Why play? Isn’t get­ting ham­mered 9-0 em­bar­rass­ing?

“Do I wish we hadn’t played? Not at all, we have made his­tory in get­ting this far. It wasn’t about tonight, it was about the achieve­ment of get­ting here.

“We kept go­ing right to the end, they were shout­ing: ‘We want 10’. And we stopped them, that’s a pos­i­tive for us.” Big mo­ments. Big mem­o­ries. Wok­ing hosted Wat­ford in the FA Cup this week and turned the match into a party, their big­gest day of the sea­son. They were, un­til Wat­ford knocked them out, the low­est placed club of any in the tour­na­ment. Henry Win­ter, chief foot­ball writer of The Times, wrote a won­der­ful set of pieces, one head­lined: “FA Cup pro­vides win­dow into the soul of the game.”

Martin Tyler, the Sky Sports foot­ball com­men­ta­tor, is the team’s as­sis­tant man­ager. He has worked with head man­ager Alan Dow­son at a va­ri­ety of clubs, hav­ing met him when he coached his son 14 years ago. Be­fore the game Dow­son showed The Times a col­lec­tion of framed shirts signed by Leo Messi, Chris­tian Erik­sen and Gareth Bale. Tyler gets the signed shirts and Dow­son sells them to raise money for the club. He also goes down to the pubs and shops to ask for do­na­tions. Non­league foot­ball is shoe­string footie.

The club made £300,000 (about R5.3m) from the tie, which, Dow­son said, meant that he could buy a new ket­tle and, well, pay the play­ers.

The Wat­ford team bus ar­rived to a “wall of noise from the Wok­ing fans” and the 1,300 trav­el­ling Wat­ford fans had a fair old party.

“We knew what to ex­pect,” said Wat­ford’s Tom Clev­er­ley. “All of us have come from work­ing-class back­grounds and have played for our school teams and gone out on loan at lower league clubs, es­pe­cially the Bri­tish lads. It’s what the FA Cup is all about.”

Clev­erly’s great un­cle, Reg Strat­ton, was one of Wok­ing’s great­est play­ers. He scored for them when they won the 1958 FA Am­a­teur Cup at Wem­b­ley.

But Wem­b­ley was not to be for Wok­ing. After the match, Dow­son gave the Wat­ford man­ager, Javi Gra­cia, a bot­tle of New­cas­tle Brown Ale. He got a bot­tle of san­gria in re­turn.

“I’ll get lashed tonight, and then I’ll be back at work to­mor­row,” said Dow­son. It will have been a hang­over borne with a smile and a mem­ory of a cup match that will last for years to come.

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