Sometimes things don’t work out the way that you expected. The initial reason for us being in Durban had been to see a Sharks Super Rugby game that ended up being played in Christchurch, New Zealand. Oh well. On the other hand though, sometimes things work out very nicely and this ended up being one of those times.
The SAFA Second Division is a competition that I’ve struggled to get to grips with. It’s the third tier of league football in South Africa and gets virtually no coverage either online, in the papers or on the telly. I can’t even find out which teams play in the various regional leagues, never mind the fixtures or results. This weekend though, I got lucky as the play-offs for promotion to the First Division took place whilst we were in town.
If you were thinking that the end of July seems a bit late to be holding the play-offs, you’d have a fair point. As there is such minimal coverage though, I’ve no idea why they wouldn’t be concluded until just a fortnight before the new season starts.
The winners of each of the nine regional Second Division leagues had spent the past week in Durban. They had been divided into two groups with the plan being that the winner of each group would earn promotion. The two group winners then got the chance to play each other to determine the overall Second Division Champions.
The final was scheduled to take place on Sunday at 3pm in Umlazi, a township a few miles outside of Durban. That gave Jen and I the opportunity to stroll along the seafront beforehand in the winter sun.
The beaches at Durban are busy from early morning with surfers, blokes with metal detectors and people taking their dog for a shite. There were few sunbathers, but I imagine it’s packed in the summer.
The highlight of the morning was watching what I assume was a crane of some sort catching and then taking its time to eat a large grasshopper.
After an outdoor lunch we set off for the King Goodwill Zwelithini Stadium. If you hadn’t already guessed it’s named after the current King of the Zulus. I’d hoped that he might have made an appearance, after all, it’s not every day your stadium hosts a Second Division play-off final.
His Majesty had other things to do though, spending the weekend out of town marrying his sixth wife in a ceremony that was expected to accommodate four thousand invited guests and up to forty thousand gate crashers. He should be fine for toasters after that.
We didn’t have to look too hard for the stadium, with it being right next to the Mangosuthu highway. Parking was easy enough too, as we just drove into the VIP car park giving the security fella a cheery wave on the way in as if we parked there every day of the week. Using the car park also enabled us to skip the turnstiles as it had direct access to the stadium. I’m not sure if there was an admission charge for everyone else, but it looked as if people were just wandering in.
The Zwelithini Stadium had been tarted up for the 2010 World Cup, as the intention had been for it to be used as a training pitch. I don’t think it got used in the end, which isn’t surprising when you consider the number of more convenient alternative pitches in Durban itself.
The improvements consisted of a main covered stand and concrete terracing around the other three sides. It looked as if people would have just stood on the grass banks before then.
With both teams normally playing their home games a few hours drive away, I wasn’t expecting much of a crowd. As usual, people were drifting in throughout the first half and I’d estimate that there were around three hundred or so altogether.
We were sat in the main stand and there were definitely a few people nearby supporting Cape Town All Stars, although they might very well have been squad members who hadn’t made it into the dugout for the final.
On the other side of the pitch there were a handful of Highlands Park fans. One of them had lapped the pitch beforehand splashing the grass with what looked like Coke. It was in a Coke bottle anyway. In hindsight, it might very well have been some sort of ‘holy water’. There’s a spring we drive past on the way to Pretoria that people collect water from for use in church services and I suppose it’s more likely that it was something like that rather than actual Coke. Who knows though.
We had a few potential WAGs turn up too, although they did seem far more glamorously dressed than they’d need to be to bag a Second Division footballer. I’d have thought that they might have been better off crashing the King’s wedding in the hope of catching his eye and becoming bride number seven. The going rate for a royal bride is twenty cows, which I reckon would be beyond most of the lads on the pitch.
Incidentally, I was chatting with a women at work about the payments for a bride. Lobolo, they call it. It’s usually paid in cows, although quite how appropriate that would be if you lived in a block of flats I don’t know. Maybe you could keep them in the bride-to-be’s old bedroom.
She also told me that when negotiations get bogged down the budding groom might offer a sheep or even a chicken to up the price a little without having to stretch to a whole extra cow.
With promotion already clinched for both sides I was hoping for an entertaining game. There was a fair bit of money at stake though with a million rand destined for the winners and half that for the runners up. That’s serious money at this level. In fact it’s far higher prize money than that available in the First Division.
When the sponsorship was announced there were a few tongue in cheek comments that choosing to yo-yo between the first and second divisions would be a decent business plan for the First Division teams.
I’d settle for some of the sponsor’s money being spent on a website listing the fixtures.
The standard of play wasn’t bad, not too dissimilar to that of the top two divisions. Both sides kept it tight at the back with the only chance of any note in the first half coming when one of the Cape Town players clattered a long range shot against the bar.
Nobody got any closer to scoring in the second half and at full-time it went straight to penalties. Cape Town All Stars held their nerve and claimed the trophy with a 5-4 win. I’ll look forward to seeing both of the sides in the First Division in two weeks time.