A weekly opinion piece from Paul Giess
Saturday morning was a new experience for me – my first ever 10.30 am kick-off. It was also the first time I had watched a game of four halves – or was it two games played back to back that just happened to feature many of the same players? The wonders of the pre-season warm up fixture. Ajax Cape Town should be thanked for throwing open the doors and letting a small band of football starved supporters in to watch the proceedings. Often at this early stage of preparation coaches like to be secretive about new systems, unknown trialists and the integration of new signings.
I suppose we should also thank John Comitis. The fact that we have two PSL sides in the city encouraged Saturday’s opponents, Bidvest Wits, to arrange a pre-season tour to the Cape. They will play both Cape sides, and we also have a fixture scheduled against the new franchise. This provides good quality opposition to warm-up against, which is vital to our chances of hitting the ground running when the real thing kicks-off. Since we became the sole PSL side in the city our pre-season preparations have tended to feature a string of games against second tier sides from the local NFD scene. All game time is important, but ideally as fitness and form returns the warm ups should increase in intensity. Last season was a classic example.
The Cape Town Cup may have been a huge financial flop, but it was an ideal way to ease into the new season. The 2-2 draw with Sporting Lisbon was one of the most entertaining pre-season fixtures I can recall watching and it must have given the players a huge lift to come so close to beating a quality European side. The side was fit, motivated and hungry for success after that tournament, and went into the MTN8 on the crest of a wave. We all know how well that turned out – the mural of the successful side with the trophy is there on the wall as you enter Ikamva as a reminder.
Playing an experimental Bidwest Wits side at Parrow Park this weekend was not quite the same experience. It is still all about regaining fitness levels and finding some form at this stage. The result was really irrelevant, even for the fans who just wanted to see some live football again after the long winter break. For the record it finished 1-1, with Prince Nxumalo on the score sheet for Ajax, while trialist Thabang Monare scored for Bidvest Wits. The important thing is that it was competitive.
Nothing illustrated that more than when a Wits defender came straight through the back of a dangerous looking Nxumalo, leaving the Ajax man in a crumpled heap on the pitch. He was almost 40 yards out, with his back to goal so it was a ludicrous challenge, especially in this type of fixture. In a normal game it was a straight red card and the referee did not hesitate in ordering him to be substituted. RDS generously seemed to ask the referee to reconsider, but the official was not in the mood to change his mind. In a real game this was one of those occasions where we could have seen the entire bench explode in rage.
This was just the first step in a long pre-season given the late start to the PSL. There are many more friendly fixtures arranged for the next couple of weeks. If you are missing live football you should call in and catch one of the games. There is no charge, just plenty of action and much to look forward to as this new side starts to take shape.