Chippa Njedu is the coach of EC Bees FC. Photo:

JOHANNESBURG – EC Bees chairman Nceba Ntlantsana asks himself the same questions at the end of every ABC Motsepe League season.

“At the end of the season, if you haven’t gained promotion to the NFD, you ask yourself, how long can I keep this going?” Ntlantsana said.

“You look at the financial strain it takes after having spent almost R2 million a season, and that comes from your own pocket.

“You end up dipping into the family’s money to keep the club afloat and then you ask yourself, why am I even doing this?

“Last season, I thought enough was enough. I put the club up for sale after we lost out in the promotional playoffs.”

Ntlantsana didn’t get a buyer and he persisted with the club – originally from Tsolo in the Eastern Cape – which is now based in Bisho.

The love for the sport is what has also kept him going despite the financial and emotional burden of running a team campaigning in the amateur ranks has had on the businessman who owns a petrol station.

Ntlantsana’s first involvement with football was at Mthatha Bucks, which is owned by his brother Simthembile, before forming his own club in 2013.

“The problem with football as a business is that a lot of emotions are attached to it,” Ntlantsana said.

“If it was another business venture, you would simple look at the finances and decide to cut your losses, because it’s not worth it.

“But this is something I love, which is why I have persisted this long. It’s a miracle that this club still exists because of the financial toll it has taken on me.

“Eastern Cape is a big province and travelling across it to honour your fixtures is expensive.

“You need around R100 000 a month to be competitive. Some teams spend R80 000 and others spend up to R200 000 a month.”

EC Bees pocketed a participation fee of R250 000 by qualifying for the Nedbank Cup last-32. Should they reach the quarter-finals, they would be guaranteed R400 000.

But to do that, they have to go past Mamelodi Sundowns on Tuesday night at Loftus Versfeld in the last-16.

The Brazilians, with the backing of billionaire Patrice Motsepe, don’t have to count every cent they spend like EC Bees.

But for 90 minutes, and an extra 30 minutes if need be, both these clubs will be equal.

“You’ve got to be realistic,” Ntlantsana said with a smile. “How many teams from the lower leagues have caused upsets in this tournament?

“But the fact that teams like Maluti FET College and Baroka FC managed to beat Pirates and Chiefs motivates us.

“That allows us to dream that maybe we could also cause an upset. At the end of the day, it’s going to be XI vs XI. Money won’t be playing on the field.”

Ntlantsana’s team have already made history by progressing to the last-16. They were eliminated in the last-32 in 2016 and 2017.

Last year they went down to Orlando Pirates.

“That was a massive match for us,” Ntlantsana said. “It was massive for the players, our fans and even the province, as you saw from the packed stadium.

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“It helped us grow as a brand as our match was beamed across the country. The match against Sundowns is similar.

“This is a perfect opportunity for the boys to make a name for themselves, and if one or two players get professional contracts after this, I will be happy.”

Ntlantsana continued: “At the end of the day, all I do for the club is for this community and the players. My wish for this team is for it to be stable and not go anywhere.

“That can only be done by easing the financial burden. Qualifying for the NFD would help in that regard, because at least we would be getting something from the league.

“We have to use the match against Sundowns as a ladder to achieve that by learning as much as we can from it, because the ultimate goal is for this team to be the pride of the Eastern Cape.”


The Star