2020 has come and gone, and what a strange year it was. Of course the covid-19 pandemic dominated the news cycle, but what will South African football remember when they look back on 2020 in years to come? Rob Delport reflects on some of those things.
While 2020 isn’t officially over, it is for football, and the next action in South Africa will only take place on the 2nd of January 2021.
So what jumps to mind when I think of South African football in 2020?
Spare a thought for Kaizer Chiefs and Ajax Cape Town. In March 2020 when sport was halted due to the covid-19 pandemic, they were leading the Absa Premiership and Glad Africa Championship respectively. Both teams were in pole position to win their respective leagues, much-needed silverware for the Amakhosi, and promotion back to top flight for the Urban Warriors seemed inevitable.
Fast forward to the end of year, and neither of those things happened.
Chiefs missed out on the league as Mamelodi Sundowns were crowned champions, and now Chiefs find themselves at the wrong end of the table after 8 games this season. They also have the cloud of a transfer ban hanging over them – it’s been a miserable 2020 for the Amakhosi.
It gets worse for Ajax, who saw Swallows take the second tier title. They ended their relationship with the Dutch giants, and resurfaced as Cape Town Spurs. But this season they are yet to win a game in the league and are lingering near the bottom of the second tier table.
Those five inactive months will haunt them both for years. The what-could-have-been syndrome is one of sports’ curses.
The Bio Bubble
Of course it was a huge achievement that when sport did resume after the lockdown, that football led the way domestically. It was a top achievement by the PSL to pull of the bio bubble like they did, and finish off the 2019/2020 professional seasons.
With journalists not allowed to attend any football game since March, press conferences, post match pressers and interviews had to be done digitally. Zoom became a verb and a noun, for most in the industry. It had some good moments, some bad moments, and dozens of technical glitches, but at least it kept us connected. It also brought many of us closer together, as suddenly we weren’t restricted to our geographical locations.
The End of Eras
2020 brought an end to many things, perhaps most significantly, it was the end of Bidvest Wits. After a 99 year history the club was unceremoniously sold to the Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila franchise, ending the rich history of one of the country’s most celebrated clubs. They were league champions just four seasons ago, and their youth academy was one of the brightest development centres in the country. So many football stars had been part of their history. It was also the end of Highlands Park in top flight football, as they sold their franchise to TS Galaxy. However they are not completely lost, and kept their structures, and before you knew it, they had a team in the ABC Motsepe leagues, after successful promotion from the SAB Leagues for their former feeder side, which is now their main team. We of course also saw the end of Ajax Cape Town as mentioned, while it was an end to professional football for Royal Eagles and Mbombela United, who were relegated from the Glad Africa Championship.
It was also the end of Absa as sponsors of the South African Premier League, and Telkom’s sponsorship of the Knockout trophy also ended. DSTV stepped in to become the new sponsors of the league, and we will have to wait on next season to see who replaces Telkom, with the competition not happening this season.
A New Dawn
So we mentioned Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila and TS Galaxy, we also mentioned Cape Town Spurs, but there were a few other new kids on the block this year. Cape Town All Stars returned after taking over Galaxy’s second tier status, while 2020 marked the arrival of Sekhukhune United who bought TTM’s. Cape Umoya United, dropped the Umoya to become Cape United, Real Kings re-branded as Royal AM, while there were also two new teams promoted from the ABC Motsepe Leagues, Pretoria Callies and Bizana Pondo Chiefs.
AmaZulu has new ownership, and new aspirations. They also ended the year with a new coach, bringing in Benni McCarthy to guide the ship.
(Oh, and iDiski Times also launched in 2020!)
The Birds Take Flight
At the beginning of the year, it didn’t really look like Swallows FC were on their way to top flight football. While Brandon Truter had already turned things around at the club, I am not sure they were expecting to win the Glad Africa Championship last season. But they just kept going, and have kept that momentum in the DSTV Premiership this season. Did anyone bet on them being second on the log at the end of the year? At the start of January 2020, they weren’t even in the top five of the second tier! But Truter and his team took it “one game at a time”, and that is still how they are doing things.
Before leaving Mamelodi Sundowns, Pitso Mosimane helped the club to two more trophies in 2020. Having already won the Telkom Knockout in the 2019/2020 season, Sundowns added the Absa Premiership and Nedbank Cup trophies to their trophy case, and while Mosimane would move on to Al Ahly, he will know he left Sundowns as the premier club in South Africa.
While Chiefs and Pirates fans can argue about who have the best, or to be more direct, the most supporters, Sundowns fans don’t have to argue who has the best club.
It’s not just the success of the men’s team, or the women’s team who won the inaugural National Women’s League, but it is also Sundowns who are putting South Africa on the map. Mosimane is making waves now in Egypt, having won the CAF Champions League with Al Ahly already. The most high profile South African players in Europe all have one thing in common too, Percy Tau, Bongani Zungu and Keegan Dolly, are all ex Sundowns players. And of course Hlompho Kekana was nominated for another Puskas, once again putting Sundowns on the global stage.
There’s also the small matter of the club’s president, Patrice Motsepe, who is now in line to possibly become the next president of CAF.
Since winning the CAF Champions League and playing at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2016, Sundowns is the club that has dominated international stories about South Africa. It’s going to to take a lot to change that dynamic, and unless they turn their success around the Soweto giants are going to continue to lose their stature. For many around the world, the only ‘Kaiser Chiefs’ they know is the band from Leeds and ‘Orlando pirates’ are who you find at a Disney theme park ride in Florida.
Unfortunately not all global headlines around Sundowns were positive, some were just tragic. The club lost two players in a month to road accidents in South Africa, as the club and country bid sad farewells to Anele Ngcongca and Motjeka Madisha. Anele was of course also much loved in Belgium, and their losses at the end of 2020 were heartbreaking.
Buccaneers Break The Duck
Just before the end of year Orlando Pirates of course won the MNT8 trophy, their first silverware in six years. The Ghost had waited patiently for something to celebrate, with Josef Zinnbauer doing what a string of coaches couldn’t. Zinnbauer has created a really good foundation since taking over. Winning this trophy might just be the springboard to take it up a level. They also ended the year unbeaten in all competitions in 20/21, and in fact only lost twice in the calendar year.
Luc Who Is Coming To… Never Mind
The end of the year had 24 hours of madness, when Chippa United announced that controversial Belgian coach Luc Eymael was to take over the coaching reigns. Earlier in the year Eymael had been accused of making racial and discriminatory comments while working in Tanzania. Social media went mad, after all months earlier SAFA had said they would block any attempt to employ Eymael after the controversy. SAFA released another statement. The club’s owner Chippa Mpengesi went on radio saying he would defend his new coach.
But the next day, Christmas Eve, the club announced they had withdrawn the offer to Eymael. It seems Mpengesi was willing to defend Eymael against SAFA, but not against his unhappy sponsors, who were also not happy with the appointment.
Mpengesi would eventually turn to Dan Malesela for a fourth stint with the club, while Seema would head off to join Black Leopards where he will assist Dylan Kerr.
You can’t mention 2020 without mentioning Themba Zwane. What a year it has been for the Sundowns and Bafana star. He has been absolutely brilliant at times, and it was no surprise when he walked away with all the individual player accolades available in the country. And actually since winning those awards, he’s been even better!
Let us know if there is anything else you think the 2020 football year will be remembered for?