A pall of gloom is sure to descend on the Mother City on Sunday afternoon. When the referee blows the final whistle for the end of the National First Division (NFD) match between Stellenbosch FC and Santos at the Athlone Stadium, it will officially signal the relegation of former PSL champions Santos to the regional Second Division.
While it will usher in much symbolic weeping for a football club that has meant so much to the Cape, the word from Santos is that this is just a temporary setback. They will be back. Watch this space.
They are not giving up and throwing in any towel as yet. Santos, says club boss Goolam Allie, has been through far worse situations in its history. And they will bounce back – stronger, wiser and a lot more savvy.
Allie is certainly correct in his assessment of the club. Established as a professional club in Heideveld on the Cape Flats in 1982, they went on to become one of the Mother City’s most successful clubs: Titles, trophies and top-class players, they’ve seen, done and had it all.
Santos have been down before – in 1993 – and it was from the ruins of that relegation period that they rebuilt, restructured and eventually won the prestigious PSL title in the 2001-2002 season.
For those who don’t know, this is a club that shaped their history and place in today’s democracy. The club’s contribution to the liberation struggle – as an affiliate of SACOS (South African Council on Sport) and fully committed to the principle of “no normal sport in an abnormal society” – can never, ever, be forgotten.
Critics may crow about Santos’ current demise, but what the club meant to the people in the dark days of segregation will always be remembered. It cannot be erased, whatever your opinion may be.
“For Santos, football has never been about business,” said Allie. “The priority has always been about the game, and about creating something for the people of Cape Town. Yes, we are disappointed. And, in our current situation, we feel especially bad for those who fought alongside us in the struggle.
“We have a legacy that we are proud of and we will continue to fight to get back to where we belong, and take our rightful place in the sport. We stand for history, we stand for principles. In tough financial times, even when we had no sponsorship in years gone by, we always kept the club afloat. Our achievements speak for itself.”
Football is certainly a different ball game today, especially in the controversy-laden NFD, where it’s a dog-eat-dog world in the desperation to get to the financially-flush PSL. There’s so much skulduggery going on, with constant questions around results, performances and referees’ decisions.
The football grapevine has recently been abuzz with talk around Magesi FC’s 6-0 drubbing of Real Kings last week. In danger of being relegated, Magesi needed a victory by a healthy margin of goals to get clear of FC Cape Town in second-last position on the NFD standings.
And that is exactly what Magesi got in that surprise 6-0 win over a team much higher up the log.
Allie, though, has urged the faithful followers not to give up on the club.
“There are many people who looked up to us in the past, they followed us closely,” he said. “Even when we were struggling, people would always check to see how Santos were doing.
“These are difficult times, it’s an unfortunate period. But we will now drop down, and we will continue, we will soldier on. We have a brand, we will restructure, and we will do things differently.
“Importantly, though, I say again, this is a club that knows the meaning of hardship. We have been in situations far worse than this, and we have come out shining on the other side. We will do so again.”
A player who has now experienced both the highs and the lows with Santos is 36-year-old Tyren Arendse. He was an influential member of that title-winning squad in 2002 and now, he’s also experienced the other side of the coin.
There is a possibility that he may decide to call it quits now, but as yet, he hasn’t made up his mind.
“Look, I’m still thinking about it (retirement),” said Arendse. “There is one more game to go, and, after that, I will sit down and think about it.
“Obviously, the club being relegated is very disappointing. There are many people who still follow the team closely and hold Santos in their hearts.
“In fact, over the last few weeks, I’ve met a lot of older Santos fans and they remember the club’s history and its glory days. It’s especially disappointing for them.
“For me, though, it’s also disappointing for the juniors because there’s nothing for them to look forward to. But we just have to keep things together and get back again, first to the NFD and then the PSL. I don’t see why it can’t be done; we have to get the club back to where it used to be.”