By Daluvuyo Msebe
Not only do Orlando Pirates face a team that is a closed book to them in Saturday's Absa Cup last 16 match, they will also be undertaking a journey that could become part of their regular schedule in the near future.
In HP Silver Stars, the Buccaneers take on a side that is locked in a neck-to-neck race for promotion from the Inland League with Bloemfontein Celtic and Pietersburg Pillars.
Last season the Owen da Gama-coached team were pipped by Dynamos in the race for promotion to the Premier Soccer League and had to settle for second place.
The team is based in Johannesburg, but use Seshego Stadium as their home ground. Against Pirates on Saturday, Stars will be using Thohoyandou Stadium because both Seshego and Giyani Stadiums do not have the capacity to accommodate the large number of fans expected.
Formerly Khakhu Fast XI and based in Venda, the team changed its name to Mapate Silver Stars after businessman Joseph "Tycoon" Mapfulagasha became the majority share holder.
Da Gama first took over as coach of the side in 1998 and in only his first season took the side from the Vodacom League to the First Division. Unfortunately, Da Gama had to leave at the end of that season to attend to his Pretoria-based IT business. Faced with the prospect of relegation during the 2000-01 season, Mapfulagasha approached Da Gama to help rescue the team.
At the time, Da Gama co-owned a team in the Vodacom League, PSM Parkhurst, with another businessman Larry Brookstone - and both had business interests in Gauteng. So it was agreed that Silver Stars would be based in Johannesburg and the team would only travel to Venda for matches.
The move paid dividends as the side won nine out of their remaining 11 games, avoiding relegation.
Seeking to build a strong team that could mount a serious challenge for promotion, Da Gama and Brookstone sold their Vodacom League franchise and Brookstone, who was also chairman of Highlands Park amateurs, bought shares in Silver Stars, thus becoming a co-director of HP (Highlands Park) Silver Stars.
Stars defeated Pietersburg Pillars 1-0 and Winners Park 1-0 in the preliminary rounds to set up today's clash with Pirates and Da Gama reckons South African football can only benefit if his team knocks Pirates out of the competition.
"It would give the players the exposure they need and show critics out there that the gap between the PSL and the First Division is narrowing. We have the advantage of playing under humid conditions, which we are used to and as we are a closed book, it is Pirates who have to worry about us and not the other way round," said Da Gama.
Stars can count on the experience of former Kaizer Chiefs star Thato Maleka and ex-Leopards star Albert Mushadu as they attempt to cause one of the biggest upsets ever in local football.