Stellenbosch FC celebrate after winning the league and gaining promotion to the Absa Premiership. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
“It’s been an incredible journey for us that ends with success.” Those were the words of a happy Stellenbosch FC coach Steve Barker after his team had clinched National First Division (NFD) honours and automatic promotion to the Premier Soccer League (PSL).

Stellenbosch played to a goalless draw with ninth-placed league rookies Maccabi FC at the Idas Valley Sports Ground yesterday.

With closest rivals Royal Eagles going down 1-0 at second-bottom Ubuntu Cape Town - who were relegated with Witbank Spurs - Stellies only needed a point to remain at the top of the table. They ended up with 56 points made up of 16 wins, eight draws and six losses.

Stellies were the form team among the 16 NFD teams and spent over four months at the summit with an 11-point lead over the chasing pack at one stage. It is an amazing achievement for a club (formerly known as Vasco da Gama) in only its third year of existence.

“The lads have achieved something very special. The entire squad played their part with their work ethic getting us home and into the PSL. Now for the big clubs that lie in wait. Cape Town City and us now against the rest of the country. That’s great for Cape Town football. We will celebrate now and then start planning for the road ahead.”

It is the second time Barker has won the NFD. He achieved the feat with the University of Pretoria in 2012.

“A five-year plan completed in one year,” said Edries Burton, the chief operating officer at Stellies. “We wanted to keep the team in the league and build something special for the future. We had a small squad of 24 players and they bought into what we had in mind.”

Stellies captain Jarrod Moroole said: “We knew we needed a result to end off on top and the point proved enough. It was one of our toughest games and we held our nerve to the end.”

League rookies Maccabi came into the game safe from the drop and chasing a hat-trick of wins, but the men from Johannesburg could not find a way past a well-organised home defence. Stellies created more chances in both halves with striker Iqraam Rayners the main danger man, and he came closest to breaking the deadlock in the second half with a curling free-kick that was well kept out by Brad Norman.

Rayners, a former defender, signs off as the league’s top scorer with 19 goals, three shy of the record set by Phumelele Bhengu.

As for fourth-placed Ajax Cape Town, they miss out on the play-offs on an inferior goal difference to that of third-placed Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM). TTM could still lose their spot to Ajax as they are in danger of being docked three point for not fielding two U23 player on the field at the same time in a recent match.

The Urban Warriors closed out their campaign with a 2-0 win at Mbombela United, while Cape Umoya United smashed Tuks 6-0.

Cape Argus 

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