A weekly opinion piece from Paul Giess
So Cape Town City FC are here and interesting times lie ahead for football in the Mother City. Well that is the narrative that the media are spinning, as our new neighbours are currently sucking up every inch of column space in the local papers and social media. Almost overnight Ajax Cape Town have gone from the city’s premier football side to second place. Mpumalanga Black Aces finished above us last year so technically the Cape Town City FC side is the superior team. Not only did we fail to finish high enough in the PSL to defend our hard earned MTN8 title, we now also have to watch these newcomers represent Cape Town in the 2016 tournament.
There is a positive side. In the long run this could well be a good thing for Ajax Cape Town. First, we obviously have one less away fixture in the coming season. Our poor record on the road is common knowledge, and that trek up to Mpumalanga was just about the worst of all those long journeys. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the presence of Cape Town City FC should force Ajax to raise their game in future seasons. There were long periods in 2015/16 when the team was coasting on the back of the MTN8 success. The players admit it, the supporters knew it and if they are honest the coaches would also acknowledge it. With a local rival to spur them on and compete against maybe that mindset would not have crept in. In the battle to win over the city’s football fans we may see more of an effort by the club to engage with the supporters. Already we have seen the reappointment of Shooz Mekuto as a supporter liaison officer.
So it’s not all bad news for us at Ajax Cape Town, or for the whole city of Cape Town, but the wider picture surrounding the move does not do much for South African football in general. We all know that this move has not happened for footballing reasons, despite the nostalgia about regenerating the old club’s legacy and the free season tickets for historic Cape Town footballers. It is the personal issues between our current owner and John Comitis that have driven this move, there was no call from the city’s football fans to resurrect the old club. There was also no call from the people of Mpumalanga to dispose of their existing club. While the new club tries to buy its legacy a community 950 miles away has lost its football club due to a wealthy businessman with a grudge.
It should be noted that Black Aces themselves were only founded in 2008 when the Polokwane-based City Pillars league license was bought and the team was transferred from Limpopo. However, the overall point is that all such moves are ultimately bad for the game of football as a community sport. At a time when PSL attendances are woeful why would anyone commit to supporting a club that could suddenly move the length of the country to satisfy the urges of a new owner? Around the world football clubs may belong on paper to private individuals, but their spirit belongs to the local communities where they play their fixtures. When football forgets this, supporters also forget to come out and watch the teams play. Personally, I would have a lot more respect for Cape Town City FC if John Comitis had reformed them, started at the bottom and worked his way up into the PSL – as Chippa United did a few years ago. Then he could legitimately have played fixtures against Mpumalanga Black Aces as well as Ajax Cape Town.
This new version of Cape Town City FC may be desperately trying to link itself into the city’s football heritage, but where is their real heart and soul? Every time one of our clubs moves geographically to live out a new owner’s fantasy a little piece of our local football culture dies. The same is true every time Kaizer Cheifs play in Cape Town or Orlando Pirates play in Port Elizabeth or Chippa United turn up wherever in the Eastern Cape will pay them the most. When clubs are nothing more than the playthings of businessmen chasing money making opportunities or personal agendas, our communities will ultimately abandon them.
So let’s get ready for a new season with a sense of excitement at a new rival to challenge, but let’s not pretend that what is currently good for Cape Town football is good for the PSL as a whole. And for those Ajax Cape Town fans thinking of quitting for these hyped-up newcomers, we see you – go and have your fun. We will also see you when you come crawling back in a few year’s time after your club is sold again, and has relocated hundreds of miles away to meet yet another owners personal or business agenda.