For many, this beautiful game is not just a game, but life and death.
The South African Castle Premiership has drawn to the end of the first half of the season and there are still no clear contenders or pretenders to the league title. But look elsewhere in Europe and you can already predict who is going to win. In England, it is between Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. In Italy, Juventus or AC Milan, while in Spain it is between Real Madrid and Deportiva La Coruna.
But I digress. Going back to the Castle Premiership title race, it has never been so close and could go down to the wire once again. The number one spot on the league table has been occupied by several clubs in the past five months and 13 games have thus far been played.
There may have only been a few goals in this year’s Premiership so far, but there has been a few brilliant performances from the youngsters. Wayne Roberts of Wits University, their number one goalkeeper, has managed to allow only two goals past him in 13 games — with the students only recently experiencing their first defeat.
Another youngster is Jabu Pule of Kaizer Chiefs who, it appears, has put a stop to his off-the-field antics that almost put an end to his soccer career. The youngster has managed to thrill both the fans and his management with his mesmerising football skills to such an extent that national coach Ephraim Mashaba has included him in the Bafana Bafana team bound for Tunisia next year.
Patrick Twala of Orlando Pirates is another footballing youngster that has the ghosts in stitches as he outthinks and outclasses other players with his dribbling skills making many wonder how Sundowns, his former club, could let such a jewel leave their stable.
While the youngsters were making their mark, a small club from Limpopo province, Silver Stars, was also making history. The club has had a fairytale rise through the league, becoming the first team from that province to reach a final of a prestigious Cup competition. Stars reached the final of the Coke Cup only to be defeated 2-0 by three-times finalists Kaizer Chiefs.
But it would not be a South African premiership without the requisite drama. The bad refereeing this season has left a lot to be desired. The league also managed for the first time in its history to stay out of debt and at the same time boost its coffers with worthwhile sponsorships.
But the best part about our local soccer league this year is reflected in the fact that many soccer supporters have been kept at the edge of their seats by riveting, unpredictable soccer.
Players and coaches have been holding their breath, making sure they do not stumble in the first half of the season, staying on track for the prestigious Premiership title -â€’ a title which has seen only four team lift it since its inception in 1996: Manning Rangers, Sundowns, Santos and Orlando Pirates.
Could we see someone other than the usual suspects lifting the Cup in 2004?