More than a ‘shortage of strike-force’ at ailing Birds

Gauteng Premier and Swallows owner Panyaza Lesufi. | BackpagePix

Gauteng Premier and Swallows owner Panyaza Lesufi. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 20, 2024

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MATSHELANE MAMABOLO

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PANYAZA Lesufi sat high up in the stands at the Tuks Stadium, emotionless as his beloved Moroka Swallows took on the University of Pretoria in a Nedbank Cup last-16 match the other night.

With the score at 1-1, Gauteng’s No 1 citizen – resplendent in a black suit, with a white shirt and black tie – looked hopeful. That hope was swiftly dashed, though, as the Birds conceded a last-minute goal to tumble out of the competition in which they have a great history.

Gauteng Premier and Swallows owner Panyaza Lesufi. | BackpagePix

The defeat saw them suffering the ignominy of being the only elite league side to be denied a quarter-final spot by a lower division side.

“There’s a shortage of strike-force at the club that is dear to my heart,” he said, a day later when he launched the City2City Marathon.

Well, Mr Premier, there is way more than a shortage of strike-force at your beloved Moroka Swallows.

The club lacks soul. The club lacks personality. The clubs lacks direction. The club lacks a football-savvy leadership. The club lacks quality players.

You knew trouble was brewing at Swallows when the club failed to honour matches against Mamelodi Sundowns and Golden Arrows, due to a players’ revolt following unpaid salaries. The spin doctors of the club would have fooled only those not familiar with the sport.

Thabang Sibanyoni of University of Pretoria helped sealed the fate of Swallows in their Nedbank Cup round of 16 victory this past weekend. | BackpagePix

Prior to that, a good friend whose passion for the club knows no bounds, sent me a message when Swallows announced they were parting ways with coach Steve Komphela – prior to terminating contracts with numerous established players deemed guilty of mutiny.

“One way ticket to the doldrums,” his message read.

“I’m done with this team. We’ve suffered enough now.

“They have played with our emotions for way too long. Fortunately, I never really got emotionally attached to this Swallows ya boPanyaza.

“But I had hope. Now this is the low of the lowest they’ve ever been.”

Of course, the relegation from the elite league back at the end of the 2014/15 season, followed by further demotion to the third tier, was the lowest. But I got his drift.

This, after all, is an institution so imbued with rich history, that those who love it just cannot believe their club has plunged to the depths that they have this season. Swallows are winless in 13 matches and occupy 14th place on the 16-team table, their last win having come way back in November when they beat TS Galaxy 1-0.

The exit from the country’s premier knockout cup at the expense of a lower division side made a mockery of their proud record in the competition. From way back in 1978, when the sport got integrated in the country, Swallows have won the country’s premier club knockout competition in all its guises under different sponsors.

Steve Komphela was let go by the struggling Birds earlier this year, a move which has not changed the club’s fortunes. | BackpagePix

They were victorious in the 1983 Mainstay Cup, the Birds beating Witbank Black Aces 1-0 courtesy of a goal by Ace Mnini, under the tutelage of revered Chilean coach Mario Tuani.

When FNB took over as sponsors with the competition named the BobSave SuperBowl, the Birds were two-time winners – their 5-1 demolition of a star-studded Mamelodi Sundowns in the 1989 final one of the finest evenings in the club’s history.

Not that Swallows were not teeming with great players themselves – the late Eddie Lewis being privileged to lead a squad of talent such as Calvin Petersen, Andries Mpondo, Noel Cousins, Les Grobler and Owen da Gama, to mention but a few. They won a second BobSave just two years later under Sandile Bali, beating Jomo Cosmos 2-1 in the final.

Eddie Lewis led Swallows to BobSave SuperBowl title. | BackpagePix

When it was called the Absa Cup, Swallows again won the competition – Gavin Hunt leading them to a 3-1 victory in the 2004 final against Steve Komphela’s Manning Rangers.

Last week’s defeat to AmaTuks would have pained many members, as Swallows fans refers to each other. Back in 2009, at a packed Rand Stadium, the Beautiful Birds flew high over the lower division university side that had stunned the likes of Kaizer Chiefs en route to reaching the final.

I still have vivid memories of that match, having taken my then- 9-year-old son Julio – in a replica Swallows jersey emblazoned with his name – to the stadium. His delight knew no bounds during the announcement of the teams.

“Dad, they’ve just called my name,” he said, tugging at my shirt, when the speakers boomed Swallows coach Julio Leal’s name.

It was a memorable afternoon as Brazilian Vinicious da Silva scored the goal that saw the Nedbank Cup trophy being delivered to the Swallows cabinet.

Those glory days now seem a figment of the Swallows faithful’s imagination – destroyed as they have been by poor administration that clearly lacks the football nous of the late David Pine Chabeli, whose dealings with players when it came to salary matters was legendary.

Bra Pine may not have paid his players much, but he knew how to keep them from going rogue as the current lot who were sent out to pasture apparently did. Even if it meant paying them individually and making them believe they were the highest paid in the club, the old man had his way with the boys that ensured the club got going.

Swallows’ coach Julio Leal made them dangerous opponents. | BackpagePix

Under Leon Prins, Swallows functioned well, albeit with some ups and downs that saw coaches coming and going. That period when the club was owned by German Dieter Bok may have been filled with uncertainty, but the club still functioned – so well they came close to winning the championship under Gordon Igesund before it all went downhill.

Lesufi resurrecting the club brought hope to many members but his recent ‘departure’ to focus on leading the province appears to have left a huge gap. From a distance the young and highly impressionable David Mogashoa appears more obsessed with getting likes on social media platform X than on ensuring the club’s success.

Here’s to hoping that the exit from the Nedbank Cup is a wake-up call to him and his board to realise that they are custodians of a local football giant that should not be allowed to disappear again.

One would think Lesufi, even as a fan, will do all he can to ensure the lengths he went to that ensured Moroka Swallows’ resurrection are not in vain.

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