CAPE TOWN - The Cape Town derby is relevant and important again - and, with Benni McCarthy in charge of Cape Town City, that good, old-fashioned spirit of grit and aggression so endemic to Cape footballers is coming to the fore again.
The Hanover Park-born former Bafana Bafana striker will certainly know what the Cape derby is all about, having played for Seven Stars and Cape Town Spurs before going on to star in Europe.
The arrival of City has breathed new life into football in the Mother City, with the result that the Cape derby is once again a fixture to salivate over. On the announcement of the PSL calendar about three months ago, 30 September was already quickly pencilled in by Cape Town’s football followers: Ajax Cape Town v Cape Town City - a game not to be missed.
Well, that date is on the horizon. The two Cape rivals meet in a PSL fixture at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon (3pm kickoff) - and, as the two teams go through their paces this week, the anticipation will gradually build up to fever pitch. A really good crowd is expected to come out and support, nostalgically bringing back good memories of derby days of yore.
In recent times, the Cape derby has lost its lustre - but, after football boss John Comitis left Ajax and established his own club, City, the rivalry is back.
In the past, Cape clubs were made up mostly of Cape players, who understood the history of the local derby and, as such, they played as if their lives depended on winning the match.
Football has, of course, moved on since those days. Professionals seek clubs which desire their services, but, often, this distracted from the Cape derby, because non-Cape players failed to fully grasp the seriousness of it all - and, in the process, a fixture which was once high up on the agenda rapidly faded into insignificance. Not anymore, though: this new animosity between Ajax and City has created a Cape derby of interest again, and every player, irrespective of birth-place, is now up for the challenge of the occasion.
But, for Saturday’s derby, Cape players are again in the spotlight. And they will come from all parts of the Mother City to give their all: because being the best football club in the Cape means something again. It’s no longer just another fixture.
For Ajax, there’s goalkeeper Brandon Petersen, a former head boy at Elsies River High School, Bonteheuwel’s Mario Booysen and Grant Margeman, Roscoe Pietersen, who was born in Strandfontein but grew up on the streets of Crawford and Athlone, Erwin Isaacs from Lavender Hill, Gugulethu’s Bantu Mzwakali, Mitchells Plain’s Tashreeq Morris and Junaid Sait from Matroosfontein (who certainly understands all the fuss of the Cape derby through his dad, Kamaal, a former Santos and Spurs player).
For City, there’s Grassy Park goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters, Strandfontein’s Robyn Johannes, Ebrahim Seedat from Athlone, Salt River’s Taariq Fielies, Khayelitsha’s Ayanda Patosi, Lyle Lakay from Silvertown and Factreton’s Craig Martin. In fact, if there are two emerging Cape players McCarthy is really excited about, it’s Martin and Fielies.
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Fielies, an Ajax academy graduate, came to City from Milano United in the NFD. Many would have thought he would be a squad player, especially with the elegant Tshepo Gumede alongside captain Johannes in central defence. But McCarthy has quickly taken to Fielies’ Cape graft and belligerence. Last Friday, in a 1-0 win over Polokwane, City were struggling to contain the opposition’s speedy forwards, and McCarthy had no hesitation in jerking Gumede and bringing on Fielies to literally kick and scare opponents into submission.
As for the ebullient Martin, now here’s a footballer to keep an eye on. He came on in the second half of the Polokwane match, and put himself about with energy and enthusiasm.
“I’m chuffed with Martin,” said McCarthy. “He’s a natural. He came on for his debut, he wasn’t fazed, and he even had his own supporters’ army in the crowd. I can tell you, the first-team guys better watch out, this player is here to stay. He has a bright future and a lot of good things are still coming.”