at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Often dreams are never fulfilled. Sometimes they take a long time, even a lifetime, to be realised.
Then, on occasion, it comes in the blink of an eye, like the extraordinary, fairytale case of Chippa United.
Tonight in Atteridgeville, near Pretoria, Chippa make their debut in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) when they take on Mamelodi Sundowns (kick off 8.15pm) – and, two years ago, who would have thought the Philippi-based side would be here?
It all started with a dream. The dream of 35-year-old club owner Siviwe “Chippa” Mpengesi when he bought a Second Division franchise in 2010, and named the club for his nickname. Chippa would go on to win the Division that same year and win promotion to the First Division.
Last season, they finished second in the First Division and made it to the promotion play-offs, where they sent neighbours Santos tumbling.
The dream realised, now they have to ensure that they maintain their PSL status. It’s not easy coming up from the lower division. A few seasons ago, another Cape side, Vasco da Gama, were promoted to the PSL and then got relegated the very next season.
This is what Chippa are desperate to avoid.
Mpengesi has made his intentions known by bringing in an experienced coach in Manqoba Mngqithi, who was previously in charge at Golden Arrows and AmaZulu. The squad has been strengthened with signings like Larry Cohen (from MP Black Aces), Msekeli Mvalo (Arrows) and two Niger internationals, Lossény Doumbia and Idrissa Saïdou. Also on board, on a full-time contract, is experienced former Ajax Cape Town midfielder Mfundo Shumana.
Shumana had spent last season on loan to Chippa.
“Last season, we were hungry to play in the PSL,” said Chippa’s captain and central defender Gift Sithole. “Now that we are here, we’re going to make the most of our chance and ensure that we are successful.”
Unfortunately for Chippa, they have been handed a really tough opening fixture.
Sundowns are one of the most successful clubs in the PSL and they are in some pretty good form after thrashing Kaizer Chiefs 4-1 in the MTN8 last week.
Dutchman Johan Neeskens is in his second season at the helm of the Pretoria side, and he knows he is under real pressure to deliver this season.
“Everybody wants to change things that didn't go well,” Neeskens said at press conference earlier this week. “I put myself under pressure. I want to win something this year. If not, I didn't do well. Maybe, if don’t win anything, maybe I step down because I think it is time we win something.”
Neeskens was particularly wary of opponents Chippa, especially because he did not really know too much about them.
“I don’t know yet what kind of tactics we will use,” he said. “Chippa came up to the PSL and we have to respect them. They deserve to be here after winning the play-offs. But I first have to see how they play and what their strengths and weaknesses are. From there, we can adapt accordingly.
“Importantly, though, we are under pressure because we have a lot more to lose. They will be motivated to play us. So we have to be 100 percent focused and give our best to get a good result.”
During the off-season, with Santos relegated, Sundowns acquired two of the Cape club’s top players, central defender Wayne Arendse and striker Eleazar Rodgers.
And with both players having been part of the Santos team that lost to Chippa in the promotion play-offs, they will be more than eager to get a run tonight. There may be some payback in the air.
This weekend’s PSL fixtures
Today: Black Leopards v Bloemfontein Celtic; Free State Stars v Bidvest Wits; AmaZulu v Kaizer Chiefs; Mamelodi Sundowns v Chippa United (Atteridgeville, 8.15pm)
Tomorrow: University of Pretoria v Maritzburg United; Platinum Stars v Moroka Swallows