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Farewell Bloem Celtic!

By Rob Delport (@FMSouthAfrica)

I write this with a heavy heart, as this week we bid farewell to another of South Africa’s great football institutions.

Royal AM have purchased the DStv Premiership status of Bloemfontein Celtic, and by the time you are reading this article, the Celtic that we know will be no more.

It brings to the end a 52 year history of a club that has meant so much to the people of the Free State.

Siwelele, I cry with you this week, and I am sure most others in the football community do too. Arguably one of the most passionate and loyal support bases, the Celtic fans have long been admired by those around the country, and for them to lose the team so close to their heart is tragic.

Perhaps the saddest part of all of this is that the writing has been on the wall for some time.

While last year’s sale of Bidvest Wits to TTM took us all by surprise, but at the time, with the covid-19 pandemic having just hit, there were many who understood the business decision taken by Bidvest. Perhaps it was the same a bit with Highlands Park’s sale to TS Galaxy. Wits University and Highlands continue to ply their trade in the amateur ranks however, with both featuring last season in the ABC Motsepe Leagues. 

Last year the Ajax Cape Town ‘project’ also came to an end, with Ajax Amsterdam withdrawing from the club, though in their case, they transformed back into Cape Town Spurs, a club with a ‘richer’ history. 

In Celtic’s case, there has been talk of the club selling their franchise for the past few seasons, with the club’s financial issues being common knowledge.

Max Tshabalala bought the club from Jimmy Augousti seven years ago, and there was hope that under new ownership the club would reach new heights.

But unfortunately, almost immediately, the club found itself struggling to balance the books. Over the past few seasons, there have been numerous reports of players and staff not being paid, or being paid late, and the club having to sell or release players to keep themselves afloat. 

Just last week in my interview with Lyle Lakay, the Mamelodi Sundowns player told iDiski Times about his time at the club, and how there were legal wrangles about his exit, after an administrative bungle.

Actually I have interviewed a number of former Celtic players for iDiski Times in the past year, and while most of them have wonderful memories of playing for the club, and the club’s fantastic supporters, there was also often some controversy.

And of course more recently there was also the whole Patrick Tignyemb debacle, with the former Celtic goalkeeper owed millions and not paid, and that saw FIFA needing to step in, and this season (like Kaizer Chiefs in 2020/2021) the club was placed under a transfer ban.

This led to many reports that the club was ‘for sale’ and over the years a number of teams have been linked to purchasing the club’s status. But what was often reported to have stood in the way was the debt the club had, and that a club like Celtic shouldn’t be allowed to relocate away from Bloem.

Celtic had it’s high and lows on the pitch too, but for the past seventeen years they had held on to their top flight status. While they never finished higher than fifth (achieved in 2010/2011 and 2012/2013) they did have a little cup success, winning the SAA Super 8 (now MTN8) in 2005, while they also won the Telkom Knockout in 2012.

Even more recently they came close to cup success, as they finished runners up in the 2019/2020 Nedbank Cup, and in the MTN8 last season.

But now we have to bid farewell to Celtic, and to top flight football in the Free State, with GladAfrica Championship side Free State Stars now the only professional team in the province. 

The knock on effect will be huge, with so many top players having played at the club in the past. Just like with Wits, Celtic also often provided many youngsters to junior national teams, and they are also a team that big clubs have often signed from. 

So from all of us at iDiski Times, we say to the Celtic fans, to the former players, to the former coaches, and all those involved with Phunya Sele-Sele, thank-you for the memories, and you have no idea how much you will be missed.