Last week, an article by respected local football writer Rodney Reiners was widely shared by AjaxCT supporters. It queried almost everything that is currently happening at AjaxCT. The questions raised were those that every supporter has been asking at some point over the past three years of decline that the club has been experiencing. Rodney asks 19 questions in his article, and you can almost feel his frustration leaping out at you as you read through his words. It is infuriating because there seem to be no answers to any of them.
As we make our way through a third consecutive season of battling relegation, we can look back at what has changed over this period. The players have changed. The style of football has changed. The first-team coaches have changed. The back-room coaches have changed. Still the performances on the field have not changed. The same problems blight the team. Players that lose concentration, make silly mistakes and concede awful goals. Weak performances away from home. Passionless performances from players that seemingly cannot wait to get away. While all this has gone on, only two things have not changed – the fans that still remain more patient and loyal than such an underperforming club deserves and one half of the boardroom management.
We grumble about the players, performances and coach, but will the fans eventually start to turn on those who manage the club at the very top?
Who sets the budgets that bring in such mediocre players? Who sends the best youngsters straight to Amsterdam before they have even kicked a ball for the first team? Then tells us: “Exciting plans between the two clubs are in advanced stages to further enhance the African Academy and will be revealed shortly”. Four months later we still wait. How has an atmosphere been created at the club that sees almost every player desperate to leave, prepared to go AWOL and then criticise the club as soon as they are out the door? Fans do not have the contacts that Rodney Reiners has in the industry, we do not hear what he hears, but we see respected former players such as Nathan Paulse and Lance Davids on social media clearly unhappy about the way the club is managed. Like the fans, still caring and hurting about performances, but just desperately sad to see their club in decline. Nobody ever seems to leave on good terms anymore and you have to wonder about how players feel about the club while they are here.
Remember when Thulani Hlatshwayo told Goal that, “During my stint at Ajax Cape Town, the team would treat a defeat as something normal, expecting it to happen to any team”. Was this the attitude of the coach at that time, or is it the ethos that has been cultivated at the whole club?
Nothing sums the malaise up more than the situation with Travis Graham. Maybe he was badly advised by his agent, but Travis could have managed his transfer request better. For obvious reasons the club were initially correct to leave him out of pre-season plans, despite the nonsense that was written about this situation in the national football press. However, when the transfer did not arise surely there should have been an attempt at reconciliation. Whose benefit is it to leave a player with over 100 first team appearances out in the cold for an entire season? From a team perspective it could perhaps be justified if there was an adequate replacement, but instead a midfielder is signed with an injury so serious he cannot play for six-months and in the meantime his position is taken by an on-loan full back with virtually no PSL experience. AjaxCT fans spend a lot of time defending the club from detractors who do not believe in the Ajax operating model, but how does anyone defend this? I cannot even begin to understand the thought processes involved let alone explain it to anyone.
This is a difficult situation for the fans now. The initial reaction is to dig in and get behind the team. Surely they need support in what is looking like a relegation battle that will be tougher than in previous years. At the same time concerns need to be raised or nothing will change. Overseas we see supporters getting increasingly active when their teams are mismanaged. In Italy, fans become so active that games get suspended. In Spain, Atletico Madrid fans have protested against management during games. In Holland, Feyenoord fans have protested against management on the pitch during games. Perhaps the most extreme example is the group of Manchester United fans who were so disgusted by the Glazer family’s ownership of the club they left and formed their own club. Ten years later and the new team, FC United of Manchester, is still going strong. Those fans have never been back to Old Trafford and are content to watch lower level and even amateur football.
What will it take for change in Cape Town? Already we see disgruntled fans deserting to support other sides, although rather than respectfully starting their own clubs they just took one away from the people of Mpumalanaga. If you have too much self-respect to jump onboard this project what are your options? There seems to be no appetite for protest at AjaxCT games and I suspect that without real change in the mindset of the club’s management many fans will simply drift away. Some fans are already staying away from games due to performances, team selections or just the despair of suspecting that the club is being mismanaged from the top and nothing will change lower down. That is except for the one change everyone at AjaxCT should fear the most – the change from the PSL to NFD.