As there were only around ten minutes between the fifth tier game that we’d just watched and the fourth tier fixture that followed it on the same pitch, I thought I might as well hang around to see some of the second match.
It probably wouldn’t do any harm to pass on what I know about the structure of South African domestic football at this time. Top of the pile is the Premier Soccer League which gets around ninety-five percent of the overall media coverage. I suppose that’s how Premier Leagues are these days. The PSL is made up of sixteen clubs and the team that finishes bottom of the table gets relegated to the National First Division, whilst second bottom gets the chance of a reprieve via a play-off.
The National First Division also comprises sixteen teams of which one or two gain promotion to the PSL each year. Two teams are relegated to the third tier. The fixtures for the second tier are listed in a weekly sports paper but that’s about all the coverage it gets.
The third tier is the National Second Division, formerly known as the Vodacom League. It consists of nine regional leagues, each with sixteen teams. It gets minimal coverage and by that I mean that the only thing I can occasionally find is a weekly round-up of local results from a newspaper in Limpopo. Dogs getting ran over get bigger headlines. So far I haven’t even been able to find a list of the teams competing at this level, never mind a fixture list or table.
There’s another set of regional leagues next that were formerly named after Castle beer. That level is known as the SAB League these days. Again, there is next to no information available. It’s a shame really as I expect there will be some interesting grounds at the lower levels.
From what I can see, the fifth tier is known as the Superleague, or at least it is in the group of eight that Arcadia Shepherds and Glenwegians play in. I’ve no idea if it is the same all over Pretoria, never mind Gauteng or the country as a whole. Hopefully I’ll stumble across more information as time goes by.
So, that’s how the leagues work. Or at least I think that’s how it is. I can tell you a bit about the Caledonian Stadium too. It was a greyhound stadium up until 1903. That’s the year that Arcadia Shepherds were formed. Hmm, coincidence?
Much as I like football I’m not keen on facilities such as greyhound tracks being taken away for alternative use. I used to love going to Cleveland Park to watch the dogs race and replacing it with a few five a side pitches and a school playing field has never struck me as a good move.
So, after the equally vague details of the league structure and the history of the stadium, on to the game itself. Arcadia Shepherds were in a white kit for this one, with Blue Stars in what I assume to be their traditional blue.
As kick-off approached we were treated to a pre-match prayer session from the Shepherds.
The fourth tier seems a bit more organised than the fifth and the game commenced with a full set of linesmen and corner flags. One of the assistants was the ref from the game that had just finished so in hindsight it’s probably no surprise that he had been pacing himself. The official on the other side was a woman who actually looked shorter than the corner flag. I doubted that those little legs would be getting up and down the pitch very quickly either.
Another indication that this match was more prestigious than the previous one was that the cage that protects the players as they emerge from the tunnel had been dragged into place. It didn’t really serve any other purpose than trying to suggest a greater sense of occasion than was warranted. Similar to the ball boys you can buy for Subbuteo, I suppose.
There was a larger crowd this time, maybe sixty, although it did include a few of the players from the game that had just finished. With the afternoon drawing on there was plenty of beer and wine being drunk.
As for the action, it was definitely a higher standard than the game before, although that’s not much of a compliment. Arcadia opened the scoring after five minutes when someone looped a header into the top corner.
Good as it all was, we had other stuff to do and back to back games were interfering with it. Twenty minutes were long enough to snap a few photos and so after that we left them to it.