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Wounded Swallows Roast In Football Hell

Published 5 years ago
By Forbes Africa

If there is a football hell, this could be it. The sky, looking gloomy and ominous, is laden with soaking drizzle on what was supposed to be a summer’s day. With thunder rumbling in their ears and forked lightning slashing down from the heavens, poor Moroka Swallows found themselves flapping haplessly into the eye of the storm in the depths of the third tier of South African football.

From the first minute, Swallows were outmuscled, outplayed and outthought at the Italian Club in Germiston, Johannesburg.

Their heads dropped at 1-0 and didn’t come up again. African All Stars – who missed out narrowly on promotion from the ABC Motsepe Gauteng League last season– made it 2-0 at half time and 3-0 by the final whistle. It could have been six; Swallows retained merely three of their players who were relegated from the National First Division last season and all of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) players are long gone. This has left a vulnerable and inexperienced side taking on the physical rigours of the third division.

Swallows are dejected, demoralized, often defeated, and down among the dead men of the lower leagues; boys against men. On this day, the men playing for African All Stars earned a R700 ($50) win bonus; by the look of it, Swallows may not get one for a long time yet.

The second half was better from Swallows, but a wasted afternoon was summed up after a flowing move down the right ended in a wild shot into the middle of nowhere.

“We should take him off and not replace him with anyone,” says one diehard Swallows supporter.

The defeat left Swallows languishing one point above the relegation zone with one win in eight games. Where they go down to from here is anybody’s guess. A few days later, under even gloomier skies, Swallows played league leaders Maccabi FC. In Africa, rain is meant to bring good luck. It seemed to come this night as Swallows, against the run of play, scored a last-minute goal to seal a 2-1 victory, only their second win of the season. Will the win, and the rain, open the floodgates on a successful season? It’s unlikely.

It is incredible to think Swallows, founded in 1947 and one of the oldest clubs in Africa, won the MTN8 Cup final just four years ago and was considered one of the top three clubs. Gordon Igesund, one of South Africa’s best coaches who went on to manage his country, was at the helm in those days of plain sailing.

Sadder still is that a handful of Swallows loyalists turn up every week, dressed in their maroon robes and hats of homage – largely for old time’s sake – with enthusiasm for a cup final rather than a football wake.

One of them is a man the fans call Spikiri, from Alexandra, a driver for one of the cinema companies. He is dressed from head-to-toe in maroon with sunglasses under his sun hat. Spikiri, born in 1968, has supported Swallows since he was five and shakes his head at half-time as he tells FORBES AFRICA of his pain over two relegations in three seasons.

“Tjo, my man I was crying. I could not believe it. I felt sick. I didn’t eat for a week. My family and friends laughed at me. I couldn’t even perform in bed for my lady,” he says. “I couldn’t believe my team was gone.”

Even the African All Stars players, who were paid to pour on the pain on this afternoon, can’t believe the fall of Swallows.

“It’s a South African shock, they shouldn’t be here,” says 22-year-old striker Siphiwe Simelane.

The downfall of Swallows has many fathers: the death of a chairman, who loved the club, mismanagement and disastrous deals.

The team manager, Power Makhura, feels the current chairman shouldn’t be running the club from Cape Town. He isn’t “hands on,” he tells me.

In August 2016, FORBES AFRICA reported on a desperate last-ditch bid to buy the club’s way back into the PSL by taking the place of Free State Stars. It was far too late and the PSL said no.

The word among the faithful few on the terraces suggests that this self-same deal may be back on.

“There is a 100 percent a deal in place to buy Free State Stars next season and use the current side as the development team,” says Spikiri who claims to have the ear of the committee. “We pay for the thing we love, it’s a small price to pay.”

Maybe, but one Swallow doesn’t make a PSL return.

At the final whistle, the hunched youngsters of Swallows trudge to their coach as if they were on the way to the headmaster’s office.

“It can’t get any worse than this, which is probably the upside of the situation,” chuckled the substitution advisor in the clapboard stand.

What is certain is that Swallows are likely to have to swallow a lot more pride before this football hell freezes over.

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Related Topics: #December 2016, #football, #Gordon Igesund, #Moroka Swallows, #Motsepe Gauteng League, #MTN8 Cup, #National First Division.