For footie underdogs, 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 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? 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 semi was a feat in itself. The picture of Clough laughing with Pep Guardiola afterwards marked the moment.
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 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.”
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 pro- vides 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” and the 1,300 travelling Watford fans had a fair old party.
“We knew what to expect,” Watford’s Tom Cleverley said.
“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. It’s what the FA Cup is all about.”
Cleverly’s great uncle, Reg Stratton, was one of Woking’s greatest players.
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,” he said. It will have been a hangover borne with a smile and a memory that will last for years to come.