TAL Fanzine’s South African based correspondent Eddie Mac gives a summary of a season that captured the spirit of South African Premier League football.
May saw the end of the current PSL (South African Premier League) and as I stay in Cape Town I headed to Athlone stadium and watched Ajax CT play Golden Arrows and record a victory to survive in the Premier League for next season.
As many of you know from the TAL forum, since relocating to SA I have become a fan of Bloemfontein Celtic and have posted many videos on YouTube that shows the commitment of the Celtic fans – win, lose or draw.
The close season saw a lot of players go out that were on loan the previous season and in come a few new faces including Boebie Solomons as assistant coach to Clinton Larsen. The forums and facebook pages showed an air of anger in the approach to Bloem Celtic’s pre- seasons signings.
So the season started and, as it was 2005 since Celtic had last claimed any competitive silverware, the fans were expectant that something must be delivered this year. The first game was a MTN Cup match, a tournament for the top 8 finishers from the previous seasons. Celtic were pitted against Premier League Champs Orlando Pirates. The match was played in Soweto Stadium and was nip and tuck until Celtic conceded a dubious penalty in the 83rd minute, which concluded their participation in the tournament .
Their first trip to Cape Town was at the back end of September to play newly promoted Chippa Utd. Chippa were at that stage the whipping boys of the league. Celtic’s form in the league was; played 4, won two, lost two, but there was an air of confidence among the supporters, playing a team who had yet to record a win in the league. The match was a dull affair in all honesty. The fans efforts couldn’t lift a lacklustre Celtic and we fell behind by 2 goals, they pulled a late penalty back through Lennox Bacela but their efforts were too late. The fans went home disappointed .
A couple of weeks later comes the draw for the Telkom Cup, another tournament for the 16 teams in the top flight league. Celtic were handed a tough draw a return trip to Chippa Utd, Celtic don’t really travel too well to the mother city (Cape Town) over the years and to make matters worse Chippa Utd were allowed to host the game in Phillipi Stadium in the heart of one of the toughest townships in the Western Cape at the stadium known as ‘The Slaughterhouse’. As usual, when Celtic do play in CT, myself and good few lads go to watch them, but playing in the Township, through one reason and another, people pulled out. Maybe the reputation of the place had got the better of them. Myself and Magnus couldn’t care less, it was an extra opportunity to see the bhoys in green and white and nothing and no-one was going to stop me going to see the team I follow.
The morning of the match I was nervous driving into the location and hearing stories about it, but then received a call from Botha, one of Bloem Celtic’s most recognisable fans, he was at the hotel with the team and needed a lift. I have met Botha over the years and he’s a great character for football in this country and now I had a chance to meet the man and get an insight into him. I told him I would come by the hotel just after 1pm. As I pulled up the team coach was parked outside. As I made my way in the team I was going to follow were heading out. I wished the coach all the best, they were tense and focused. A few of the players followed and I wished them the same, some thanked me for the wishes and a couple looked confused because this white fella knew who they were and was in his Celtic top too . In the foyer Lennox Bacela was heading out, he welcomed me and I wished him luck. Following behind was Patrick Tignyemb, a former Cameroon U23 Captain. Patrick met me with a gracious broad smile, as I had met him there before with my daughter a couple of years back and chat regular with him through FB .
Then came one of the most recognisable faces in SA, a loud laugh and ‘MR EDDIE’ – Botha greets me with a hug. We headed to the car and the team looking on from the coach with Botha waving and wishing them luck. We weren’t two minutes from the hotel, sat at the traffic lights interchange and the lad who sells the newspapers there (another Celtic fan) sees Botha and forgets about selling his papers. He runs over and greets us, the two of them chatting like long lost friends. The lights turn green and we leave the newspaper seller standing in the road with his hands in the air cheering .
My nerves of the morning had gone. In my passenger seat was Botha and everyone knows him. We pulled into Phillipi by a crossroads. Mini-bus taxi’s driving towards us, beeping us and waving, having seen Botha. Children playing at the side of the road see him and start running alongside the car with him hanging half-out of the window, giving high-fives to these lads with smiles as big as their faces . We pulled in to the stadium but had no pass to drive in, so Botha got out and went to see the Chairmen of Chippa Utd. I had parked up, it was busy outside the stadium, people with Chiefs jerseys, others with Pirates jerseys on, some lads trying to run through the security to get in for nothing. Mag in the back was getting slightly paranoid about us being the only two white men in view in the middle of a township, but I felt we gained respect, people passed the car, looked and then double-looked, and then gave a nod of approval.
I have stopped drinking the last 3 years and I’ve never felt higher than I did at that point, the adrenalin was pumping, a mixture of nerves and excitement. Botha re-emerged and told us to drive in. We met the Cape Town Celtic branch to whom the club had given 300 tickets. I parked up. Botha put on his match gear – shower cap, Celtic overalls – and we walked over to enter the stadium. Before that Botha introduced me to Mitch D’avery, Celtic technical director, and then we met the ref of the game Victor Gomes. We were standing outside Celtic changing room before they came out to warm up and could hear the team going through the same songs that would be sang on the stands less than an hour later. This was a magical experience and the game had not even started yet. As we walked in, the main grandstand was occupied by the Chippa Utd fans and rent-a-fans of the area. Botha and I made our way round to the other side and met up with Magnus and a few others. Handshakes and greetings, then the songs started. While the players warmed up the Celtic fans were singing a song which sounded like ‘Chip Away’ – all the lads had these moves where they touched the head, then shoulders and then sat down and jumped up again .
Come kick off time the Celtic side had swelled to about 500 people and the songs were in full flow. It was a competitive first half with Celtic getting slightly the better of it. It was a typical Cape Town day with changeable weather that affected the second half. We had wind, strong sun, heat and rain. As the weather changed, a mistake between defender Dominic Issac’s and Tigyemb resulted in a goal for Chippa Utd. For a split second the Celtic fans were in stunned silence, then the bhoys and ghirls of the Cape Town branch, along with Botha and one confused man with a rangers tracksuit top on, erupted into a chorus of ‘Siwelele’ . The fans had responded and now it was down to the team to respond to the faith shon in them. They pressured Chippa and the introduction of Lerato Manzini changed the game. In the 79th minute Dominc Issac’s scored his first competitive goal ever. Celtic were back in it at 1-1. The noise got louder and louder, you could sense Celtic’s dominance coming through. Five minutes later Manzini, ripping through the Chippa defence, plays the ball back to Jacky Motshegwa, whose first time effort on the edge of the 18 yard box sails past the keeper. Celtic were ahead! The 500 or so Celtic fans go ballistic, jumping and cheering they have come back from a goal down and within 6 minutes are leading the game. The ref blew the whistle and Celtic had done what they haven’t done in a while – get past the first stage of a cup tournament.
The players and technical staff came over to celebrate with the fans. The same songs and moves that were being made in the stands were being made on the pitch. Once the crowds had cleared Botha, myself and Mag headed to the car . As we were by the side of the stadium, the players came out and we met a few of the Chippa players and had pictures taken with them. Then the Celtic players came out, young Manzini who has been a real find, posed with us. The keeper Patrick, willing and thankful as ever, and my favourite player, Lennox Bacela, posed with us. Botha even got the coach Clinton Larsen and Boebie Solomons off the coach to meet us. When I saw Clinton Larsen I told him, ‘Before this game I said to Felix [the then brand manager] if Celtic beat Chippa they will win the cup.’ To which he replied, ‘From your lips to God’s ears.’ As the the coach pulled out, the players waved from the windows. Jesus, I was like a child at Christmas. Funny, as I am older than most of the players, but these fellas and fans are mighty players and people .
We said to Botha that if Celtic got to final we would go wherever it was to be held in SA. The draw for the quarter-finals was made and Celtic were pitted against Orlando Pirates, but at home. The day of the game I was working a market. I got a message Celtic were 2-0 down. I wrapped up my stall and headed home to see the last 20 mins on TV. When I got there Celtic had pulled a goal back with a penalty from Lennox Bacela, but time was running out and the Pirates scored another. 3-1 down, it seemed like the dream of going to the final really was just a dream. That day a player who really stood out, Ruzaigh Gamildien, played the game of his life and about 5 mins from full-time he headed home a great move that would belong to any league in the world. There was now a slight chance that Celtic could get back into it. The clock was running down, but deep into added time a cross came in, which Moneeb Josephs punched it out and Joel Mogorosi did an overhead kick with near-on last kick of the game – GOAL! It’s 3-3 and the dream final is back on. The scenes on my TV from the Freestate Stadium were unreal. Celtic had come back from the brink, the Pirates were broken and the next half-hour of extra time provided the same excitement. The Celtic goalie was keeping them in the game with some fantastic saves. It was to be decided on penalties. The kicks were going to hand, and then the Pirates missed… Patrick had saved it! The impossible now looked possible. Up stepped Dominic Issac’s, a defender, his spot kick was the same as David O’Leary’s in World Cup 1990, cool as hell, sending Josephs the other way. The place erupted and on to the semi finals marched the men who wear the green and white in South Africa.
The semi-finals were a Freestate derby. Celtic were drawn against Freestate Stars, a tough team under the guidance of Steve Komphela. It was going to be a tough match for Celtic and made tougher with head coach Clinton Larsen banned from the touchline, but after an exciting game the men in green and white had made it through to their first final in 7 years, winning 3-2 in extra time.
True to our word, Magnus and I sorted flights and headed for Durban, to the Moses Mabhida Stadium. Celtic were up against the club Mamelodi Sundowns, a team owned by Billionaire mining man Patrice Motsepe, a team laden with big names and some of the biggest earners in the PSL . Celtic had played Sundowns the week before and lost and Sundowns were going through rough time in the league under the Dutch man Johan Neekans. Celtic’s form in this tournament was unstoppable. In the league, by the time of the cup final, Celtic had won 5 drawn 1 and lost 6 .
So we arrived in Durban midday, got to the hotel where Magnus had booked, rang Felix, the then brand manager of the club who sorted our tickets, took a walk down North Beach where there was a few fans off both teams knocking about. The football culture is slightly different here where on match days you would meet up at bars in Europe, etc.
We got to the ground just after 7pm. Celtic had claimed the south stand of the stadium. the closer Magnus and I got to the crowd the more we could feel the anticipation. On the approach to the ground we got talking to a few fans that had traveled down by bus from Bloemfontein, over a 12 hour journey, all welcoming me and Mag. They couldn’t believe we flew up from Cape Town for the game and wanted pictures with us. As I got through the gates there’s an opening at the south stand and all you could see was a sea of green and white. Approximately 15,000 fans Celtic fans had traveled from all over SA to see the men in green and white, the singing was mighty deafening at some points. The only thing I could compare it to was like a smaller version of the Glasgow Celtic fans in Seville in the Uefa Cup Final. This was it. From the first time I saw Celtic on a rainy night in Stellenbosch in 2009, to see them on the big stage with thousands of the faithful fans behind them.
The game started and was played at a fast pace. I lost Magnus very early on when he saw a fellow fan with a beer in his hand and asked him where he got it and that was him away till much later, but I wasn’t alone I was with 15,000 friends and comrades . The first half finished 0-0. Both sets of fans were playing their part but no-one in SA can beat Celtic fans for their passion and songs. Second half started and early on Celtic were on the attack; a cross came in and Joel Mogorosi headed it goal bound, but with the keeper stranded Clyton Daniels (rumoured to be on trial at Glasgow Celtic) cleared off the line. The South end of the stadium erupted, the linesman and ref pointed to the centre circle. 47 minutes and the men in green and white were a goal up, a man I did not know and never saw before embraced me and celebrated like we were the best of mates. 7 years without a competitive cup could be coming to an end, but the next 43 minutes were going be long. The singing continued and the longer the final went on the stronger Celtic became. Lennox Bacela could have sealed it with 5 mins of the 90 left but for the upright. Four minutes of added time was held up. Botha, usually at the head of the singing and dancing was nervous, along with 15,000 other Celtic fans. Then the moment every Celtic fan in the country waited for – the final whistle. The scenes of celebration among the fans were magic. The players and coaching staff had paid back the fans who through the good times and bad times have been faithful to the core. The chorus of ‘Siwe Siwelele Siwe ohhhhhh ohhhh’ rang around the stands, the players celebrating with the fans.
The handing over of the cup was done by the centre circle so I couldn’t really see much, but as soon as everything was done, interviews over, the chairman Jimmy Augosti got hold of the trophy, ran towards us and plonked it down in front of the fans, gesturing ‘For You’ in similar fashion to Neil Lennon with the Green Brigade. It was mighty celebrations. I don’t normally sing or dance, firstly as I don’t know the language the guys and girls sing, and secondly I don’t dance, but I was dancing away with the fans. I meet my friend ‘Shakes’ who use to stay in Cape Town, then my Mrs’ texts me saying ‘I can see you on TV dancing ah ha ‘ but I couldn’t care, it was magic. I found Magnus again and he had some funny stories to tell of how the security guard tried charging him to get into the ground again, but he was already in it! However, a few pints too many, coupled with not being from Cape Town and not knowing the stadium, he still paid to get in again while already in – ha ha.
We headed to North Durban’s night life after the game. We jumped into the back of someone’s car in the stadium car park and headed to a bar. We stood out quite easy as we were the only two white dudes knocking about the area, but we were welcomed by everyone. In fact I’ve never had so many pictures taken. Durban was a blast and strengthened my support even more for Bloem Celtic .
Celtic’s next trip to the mother city was in February. In the meantime Bafana (the South African national team) played at the Cape Town Stadium against Norway. More than 40,000 football fans turned out on a January evening and, although they lost, it was a great night and build up towards the AFCON Cup, which was held in SA. Sadly, there were no games in CT of that tournament as the Western Cape government f***ed up with their application to host games.
So the bhoys in green and white rocked up in Cape Town again to play Ajax CT who were having a terrible season having sacked their manager early in the season and infighting from the two owners of the club seemed to be having a major effect on the field .
Botha phoned again for a lift to the ground. I was also carrying me pal, a landlord from Co.Down, and my friend Gerry from Belfast who was over on holiday. Got there, Ajax had a good amount of fans but the Cape Town branch again came out in force and were bolstered by a gang of lads from Scotland who are working out here. Celtic were caught off guard again on their travels and found themselves a goal down at halftime. During the first-half the Bloem Celtic fans were in full voice and, as they finished a song, Barry, one the Scottish lads, started the Celtic Song and about 20 of us, some based here, some on holiday, sang with him. The Bloem Celtic fans were kind of shocked, but when it was finished they all clapped and then Botha made up a song, which all the Bloem Celtic fans seemed to know, but was just made up there on the spot, funny as hell.
Second half started and Celtic gave a penalty away. Luckily for them Ajax missed and then, for me, the best second half of football I saw in years happened… Gamilidien and Lyle Lackey, two Cape Town born players, dominated the midfield and we came back from a goal down two lead 2-1. Celtic just couldn’t find the third goal to secure victory and, as if by the law of averages, Ajax CT snatched a late equalizer near the death. I wasn’t too upset, Celtic got a point, as did Ajax who I like as well and living in CT I often go to watch them. Had to give Botha a lift back to the team hotel, so I hung around the Athlone Stadum a while after the game. The area has a reputation as a tough district and has an element of gang violence so hanging around in a car park at 10pm is not the greatest of ideas, but waited for Botha anyway… When I dropped him off the team manager John Maduka, a former Malawian international and Celtic captain and Lerato Manzini came out to meet me. I’d spoken with John on the phone a few times so it was nice to meet him and Lerato. The club have a very good relationship with the fans.
The second half of the season saw Celtic do better in the league with 5 wins, 3 losses and 6 draws, also getting to the quarter-finals of the Nedbank Cup, only to lose to the finalists Kaiser Chiefs through an own goal from former Chiefs defender Dominc Issac’s. However, if the club can keep the current squad together and build on what they put down this season Celtic could be up there with a major chance for league honours .
Bloemfontein Celtic are everyone’s second team if they’re not the team you support, the fans are admired all over South Africa. For me, in the last 5 and-a-half years I’ve gotten right into SA football. There is so much emphasis on English Premiership football here, it’s shocking. But when the local stadiums are full the noise is amazing. From the singing to the Vuvuzelas – Yes, I did say Vuvzelas – as these guys have a special way of playing them. Bear in mind that during the World Cup you had every Tom, Dick and Harry without any element of rhythm blowing them .
The sport of football is still looked down on out here. On May 1st I was at Ajax V Kaizer Chiefs at the CT stadium. 40,000 fans passed through the gates. No hassles, just fans enjoying themselves, yet in the local paper the following week they led with the headline ‘Hooligan Soccer Fans ‘ because some fans had pissed against the walls around the stadium. Tell me a football league in the world were fans don’t have a piss near the stadiums?
I can honestly say that the folk I have met through football in SA are some of the best people you could ever hope meet. I can’t wait for next season to start and to make my long overdue trip to Bloemfontein to watch the Celtic play…