Mothobi Mvala, who scored against Sundowns, was unable to hide his disappointment after Highlands Park were relegated. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - The moral of the story for Highlands Park, who were relegated from the Premier League to the National First Division on Saturday afternoon, is that sometimes loyalty goes a long way in football.

As it is the board has already made attempts to justify decisions taken during the course of the season such as sacking coach Allan Freese five matches into their rookie campaign, and replacing him with a man whose pedigree in the relegation dogfight is almost non-existent – Gordon Igesund.

The club paid the ultimate price for also dragging its feet in sending Igesund on his way when it was clear he wasn’t the man for the job, letting him sink the ship with his three wins in 21 matches.

By the time Les Grobler was brought in, the damage had long been done, and it wasn’t Freese at fault.

The big lesson here is that Freese was treated like a doormat that does the dirty work during the cold rainy days and is tossed out as soon as there is no use for it.

What a shame.

The men who sign the cheques at Highlands Park suddenly had a serious bout of amnesia. Larry Brookstone and Co. saw an immediate opportunity to rope in a four-time Premier League winner in Igesund when Freese was struggling to get the team to adjust to the elite league after he’d worked so hard to get them promoted a few months earlier.

In their opening league game as PSL rookies, Highlands Park beat fellow newbies Baroka FC 2-1 to announce their arrival in the topflight. There were high-fives all around. Freese was the man and would help them keep up with their lofty ambitions of not only retaining their status, but finishing in the top eight as well, although that last bit was pie in the sky really, given the rarity of seeing a newly promoted side achieve that feat.

Franklin Cale and Brandon Theron in tears during the Absa Premiership match between Highlands Park and Mamelodi Sundowns. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu /BackpagePix

Then they held their own against Kaizer Chiefs and were unfortunate to lose by a controversially awarded penalty in the dying minutes of the game. Nothing wrong with their performance against Amakhosi, but after a 3-2 defeat to Polokwane City, who have finished the season in sixth place, a 1-1 draw against third-place Cape Town City and a 4-1 thumping by Stuart Baxter’s SuperSport United, Freese lost his job.

Very few saw the decision to hire Igesund and fire Freese after just five matches – especially considering the opposition – as a masterstroke by any stretch of the imagination. It is safe to assume there is no real sympathy for the board after what was an unpopular move in the first place. Freese undoubtedly deserved more time. 

And having coached Platinum Stars in the PSL before, winning two knockout competitions in 2013, should have also bought him more time.

Allan Freese Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix

The board, instead, romanticised the whole idea of seeing one of their players from yesteryear returning as coach and leading them to the Promised Land, wherever that was.

If you know Freese, then you will agree that he did not harbour any ill-feelings over how he was pushed out, but I’d still pay a small fortune to hear his thoughts on how the whole things has come back to vindicate those, like me, who were vocal about his untimely sacking as coach of Highlands Parks very early this season.

It could be a while before we see Highlands bounce back to the topflight, but at least now they know that loyalty, or at least some aspect of it, in football goes a long way.


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The Star

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