“He has watched a lot of finals on TV, and seeing the kids of players holding the trophy and playing on the field. As soon as he saw that we were in the final, he was all over me, demanding he has to get down to Cape Town,” the lanky United skipper explained this week.
Fransman knew he would not be forgiven if the light blue and white of Maritzburg are draped on the Nedbank Cup this afternoon, and he lifts the trophy with his son watching it from 1000km away, instead of metres away from him.
These are good problems. Indeed, they are problems that most people associated with United could not have dreamt of having to deal with - even at the beginning of this remarkable season. They have learnt to dream, and they have made sure not to forget the sweet sensation.
For Fransman, a veteran of 17 years, 10 clubs, 19 international caps and a million miles travelling the globe, this campaign at United has been a breath of fresh air. In two seasons, he has seen the KZN Midlands outfit develop from occasional upsetters to absolute go-getters. “A lot of people thought my move to Maritzburg was ludicrous. They couldn’t understand why I’d want to come here, when I still had a few years left in the legs,” he remembers, casting his eye across the city he calls home.
There are no bright lights here, no obvious distractions to take footballers’ minds away from the task at hand. That very environment of humility has been the making of this United revolution - a team constantly fighting to get a piece of the bright lights. “I understood the vision, and I knew there would be a lot of work. But I also knew there was a lot of talent,” he said by way of explaining his choice.
“We had to start by getting solid at the back, and then building from there. We enjoy the job, and we love fighting for clean sheets. That was the key, getting the ugly side right before we started playing the pretty football.”
United’s displays this season have certainly been eye-catching; an alluring, inspiring mix of buccaneering and ekasi football. They have thrilled their resident fans at the Harry Gwala Stadium and, in return, those fans have given them their hearts and hopes.
“It is an amazing atmosphere. We tend to play our home games on Friday nights, and you can feel the excitement building through the week,” he smiles.“There was one game against Platinum Stars, where we were behind going into the last ten minutes. The crowd could see we were trying, but it just wasn’t happening for us,” he recalled.
In seasons gone by, most of the fans would have skulked off into the dark weekend before the final whistle, lamenting their long trek to eMbali, Raisethorpe, Sweetwaters, Sobantu, Pelham and every other corner of Maritzburg that they flock in from on Friday nights.
“But no one left. In fact, they started singing even louder. That gave us so much belief, and we not only scored an equaliser, but we also got the winner,” the skipper beams proudly. They have become a part of us, a real twelfth man when we need them.
“They make the stadium bounce when they are in full voice,” he adds, his face lighting up as his mind flicks back to some unforgettable scenes on their home patch. “That is why the cup final is so important to everyone associated with the club. We want to win, because it would mean a lot for the city, and a lot for a coach who has backed a lot of these youngsters,” Fransman said, acknowledging fellow Capetonian Fadlu Davids.
These are the days they both dreamed about, kicking balls under the mountain. No one could have ever imagined that they would reach this pinnacle in their careers at little Maritzburg of all places, but such is the way that a football rolls, sometimes.
As United end their penultimate training session of a glorious season, Fransman scratches at his greying head, and ponders the question that awaits him when he gets home. He has never won a cup on South African soil and, at 34, he knows these precious opportunities slip away as fast as the winter sun that is setting on United’s season. “I have to take him. I have to make a plan,” he smiles, his mind made up.
Deep down, he always knew that there was only one winner. And today, he hopes that little boy has plenty to celebrate under the very mountain where his father’s football dreams first took flight.