For the last blog of this season it is time to look back and consider the good, the bad and the ugly that we have witnessed over the past nine months. Let’s start with Mark Mayambela, whose season could easily fit into all three categories. With his age and troubled past, he is not the sort of player we are used to seeing at AjaxCT, although he is definitely an entertainer and became a crowd favourite. A man that can – and often did – change a game with a moment of brilliance. For me, his goal against Highlands Park was the real goal of the season, and probably the real champagne moment of the campaign. Great teamwork in the build-up, and the coolest finish you could hope to see in a must win game. Some of us are surprised to see that he is being released, but his petulance and tendency to get lost in games that were not going our way meant that his moments of magic were a luxury that a disciplined coach could no longer tolerate.
THE GOOD: Grant Margeman obviously. I am not going to say anymore because he is only 18 and the best is surely yet to come. There should be much more to write about in future seasons.
It has clearly been a better year defensively than going forward and Rivaldo Coetzee was correctly named player of the season after a superb final season at the club. Also a shout out to Roscoe Pietersen who has just completed his most successful PSL season ever. We knew that Rivaldo would be the main defensive lynchpin of the side, but most of us probably expected Larty or Chipeta to become established as his central defensive partner. Instead it was the man plucked from the NFD that rose to the occasion and played 24 times. He grew in confidence through the season and was always there with crucial interceptions due to his ability to read the game so well. It was a desperately sad way for him to sign-off last weekend.
THE BAD: That desperately poor and passionless display last week will live long in the memory. But rather than how we finished it was the way we started the first and second halves of the season that was the real problem. Two different coaches, two different approaches, the same dismal statistics that left us playing catch up and kept the prospect of relegation in everyone’s minds for the majority of the season. When the cash from player sales is being counted in the coming weeks can we please use it to invest in the team by going on a proper tour and playing other PSL or top African sides rather than warming up at Ikamva against the local NFD relegation battlers? With all the Amsterdam contacts at the club is there no chance the Ajax Amsterdam side that the whole footballing world is talking about right now could not be encouraged to play a friendly here? Let’s be prepared from the start next season.
THE UGLY: There is no getting away from the fact that the entire season has played out under the manufactured rivalry with our new neighbours from Mpumalanga. Football supporters at AjaxCT and elsewhere in the city were initially unsure of what to make of the new franchise, but we knew the history behind the owners and were not too surprised when it became ugly right from the start. While the two coaches agreed on a much needed pre-season warm up game the personal rivalries in the boardroom soon saw it cancelled. Before a ball had been kicked the conflict was up and running.
Two derby defeats on the pitch and a league position well below the newcomers have given supporters at AjaxCT limited opportunity to comment from a footballing perspective. Out of curiosity, many AjaxCT fans have gone along to the odd game to watch the new franchise in action. It is live football after all, and there are some football supporters in the city that will tell you they follow the fortunes of both clubs. The games themselves saw little of the ferocity typically associated with a derby. There were just two bookings in the 180 minutes of action. An unimaginable lack of passion compared to established derby fixtures around the world. Of course we don’t go to games to see yellow cards, but we do go to big games, and especially derbies, to see the passion from the players that sometimes leads to cards. We saw a lot of flags, fireworks and dancing girls, but a bitter rivalry on the pitch has not yet developed. It all suggests a friendly derby among the players – perhaps more the respect of ‘Liverpool v Everton’ than the hostility of ‘River Plate v Boca Juniors’.
If the new club had earned their place in the PSL, in the same way Chippa United did, perhaps a rivalry based on respect could develop among the fans in the future. With no fan base or identity in the city the new franchise had to rewrite history and play ugly from the start to distract from their Mpumalanga origins and purchasing of a PSL place.
Some new fans have suddenly developed an interest in football. Some AjaxCT fans have sold-out and moved across to support the new franchise. We have all had to consider how we respond to their presence in the city. Ultimately you are either the sort of person that is comfortable with taking a team from another community and calling it your own – or you are not. You are either the sort of person that is comfortable with buying a place in the PSL – or you are not. We can choose whether we want to engage with the board room rivalry or just get on with watching the football, but the ethos of the fans of the two clubs seems to be very different. For now and for the foreseeable future it is destined to be an ugly rivalry.