The gap between rich and poor is growing in the Premier Soccer League (PSL), Africa’s most expensive league. In the modern game of 2013, it’s the corporate box that rules soccer. Any club that hopes to stand a chance of competing needs cash, as much as a fleet-footed striker.
In South Africa’s PSL, top dogs Kaizer Chiefs has a squad worth R138 million ($13.8 million). In contrast, newcomers Mpumalanga Black Aces has less than half of that with R62 million ($6.2 million). Striker Mabhuti Khenyeza, Black Aces’ most expensive player, is valued at R5.4 million ($540,000). Chiefs’ most expensive player is South African international, Bernard Parker, worth R14 million ($1.4 million).
The way Black Aces started this season is a sign of desperate times. Until halfway through August, they didn’t have a home stadium. In their first match of the season, when they squared off against Kaizer Chiefs, Black Aces had to rent out the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
Chiefs, who are awash with cash from sponsors and the sale of thousands of shirts, don’t need to think twice about filling a stadium.
The PSL is no place for sissies. The action may be in the corporate boxes, but this is unmistakably an African night. The smoke from the open fires in the township outside reflects light for miles; the waves of yellow and blue shirts undulate as shots flash past the goalpost; the faint echo of taxi hooters floats in from the parking lot. The loudest noise comes when Parker scores the winning goal in the sixth minute. Black Aces fans dream of the day, when they too can swarm into a stadium with thousands of vuvuzelas.
But so goes the story of a few aces among a pack of chiefs. Success is a dream and an expensive one at that.
A tattered flag bearing a blue ace has seen better days. Holding the flag stubbornly is Njabula Simelane, a die-hard Black Aces fan. Simelane is Mandlesive High School’s art teacher and was so desperate to see his side he brought exam papers with him. He marked them in his seat, shoving them in his backpack just before kick-off.
“I would not have missed this game for anything. Aces playing Chiefs, I’ve waited two years for this,” says an excited Simelane.