The Mother City derby has always been stoked by the flames of enmity and personality.
If there’s one thing Cape Town loves, it’s a good narrative – and when the rivalry between neighbouring football clubs has the capacity to capture the imagination of the public, then invariably there is significant interest in the Cape derby.
It was so back then, and it is so right now.
It was 1972. The late, great Neville Londt was in the prime of his goal-plundering career for Glenville. In a derby against bitter rivals Cape Town Spurs, the striker known as the “Athlone Ghost” scored five times in a 6-3 win for Glenville.
The result, and Glenville’s continued dominance of Spurs at the time, led to a near riot at Athlone Stadium, the cradle of Cape football back then.
Spurs supporters were desperately unhappy with the defeat and angry at having to play second fiddle in a game of such huge importance.
For Spurs, Londt was the key, so they set about trying to lure him across.
This latest twist to the derby tale would result in an ugly tug-of-war between the management and supporters of Glenville and Spurs.
It created much hostility and friction, generating a good deal of debate and discussion around the topic. Eventually, after much wrangling and oodles of bad blood, Londt was allowed to cross over to Spurs. The transfer fee was R857.50.
But it was with this as a background that the antagonism of the Cape derby between Spurs and Glenville was increased that much more.
Now, in the latest revival of the Cape derby, Cape Town City and Ajax Cape Town have, in the same way, provided a plot-line that has enthralled the public, hence the hype and renewed appeal of the fixture.
There’s the feud between the owners – City’s John Comitis and the Efstathiou brothers at Ajax – and more than anything, the return of Cape Town’s favourite sporting son, Benni McCarthy.
If it’s charisma and personality you want, well, look no further than City coach McCarthy.
And as football’s eternal irony would always have it, Londt’s memory lives on even in today’s derby.
In fact, his influence on the fixture acts as a sort of leitmotif in the way things are unfolding, in that Comitis and McCarthy are responsible for the revival of this unique Cape rivalry.
After leaving Spurs to play for Leicester City in Johannesburg, Londt eventually returned to his old club in 1984 as a player-coach. And guess who was his first signing for Spurs? Answer: Comitis.
The City boss, a bustling striker then, had been playing for Wits, but came down to the Mother City to pen a deal with Spurs.
So last year, with football in the Cape dying a slow, painful death, the dynamic Comitis took it upon himself to galvanise the game.
He bought the PSL franchise of Mpumalanga Black Aces, relocated the club to the Mother City, and set about organising, energising and elevating the sport again.
Nothing more needs to be said, the meteoric arrival of City affirms it all. The Cape derby means something again, much as it did back when Spurs and Glenville hogged the spotlight.
Football, of course, is a game of opinion. As far as I’m concerned, Londt was the best finisher this country has ever produced. Only one player has come close, and that’s McCarthy.
And now like Londt, McCarthy, even though he is the coach, is centre stage of the derby. There is no doubt that the former Bafana Bafana striker’s presence has stirred curiosity for the derby again.
McCarthy may have made millions during his successful years on the European stage – but at heart, strip everything away, and he is just one of us: a Cape Town lad who lived through the very same hardships we had to on a daily basis.
He understands the idiosyncrasy of being Capetonian – witness his choice Cape Flats cussing when one of his players was brutally hacked down in the derby on Saturday.
He is an endearing character who epitomises everything that makes the Cape derby special.