No place to call home

While their league counterparts Jomo Cosmos celebrate promotion to the Premier Soccer League (PSL), Mpumalanga Black Aces have the headache of finding a home ground.

Aces beat Thanda Royal Zulu 3-0 last weekend in the PSL promotion/relegation playoff final leg. The victory gave Mpumalanga a premiership team for the first time in 12 years. The last time they had a team in top flight was in the 1996-97 season before Witbank Aces were relegated.

But the excitement could be shortlived for the multitudes of Witbank football fans expecting to watch PSL matches in their home town.

It is not known if the Emalahleni municipality will move fast enough to help Aces play their home matches at the Johan van Riebeeck Stadium, also known as Witbank Stadium.

Since last year Aces and the Mpumalanga Rugby Union have not seen eye to eye over the rights to use the Van Riebeeck Stadium. The sporting facility, owned by the Emalahleni municipality, was leased to the Pumas in 1998 for only R150 a month.

Problems for Aces started towards the end of the 2007-08 PSL season when the Mpumalanga side featured in the Nedbank Cup final. The Puma officials raised their fees from R800 to R22 000 a game, ordered the development side to stop training at the stadium and the Aces players were told not to use certain change rooms, which were designated to be used only by the rugby team.
And the municipality has not been swift in dealing with the issue.

Termination of the lease agreement with the rugby union is one of the options open to the council. The agreement states that the rugby club should make the stadium available for any sporting event held by sports clubs with headquarters within the Emalahleni municipality.

Aces public relations officer Thabo Moroape says the municipality has not shown any commitment in dealing with the Aces’ plight, which could mean the beginning of the end for top-flight football in Mpumalanga.

”We have a headache. We are not getting the attention that we think we deserve. At this stage we don’t know where our home will be and we have to register a venue with the PSL by the end of July.

”We have heard in the corridors that the municipality is in the process of cancelling its lease agreement with the Mpumalanga rugby union, but we doubt that because the rugby union said last month that we could not play at the stadium. People don’t want to help us and we have to live with it,” says Moroape.

Responding to the allegations, Samantha Pather, chief legal adviser to the Emalahleni municipality, says: ”We have requested an opinion from a senior counsel and will compile a report which we will present to the council. And council will make a decision on the matter by the end of July.” She refused to comment further.

Aces do have an alternative venue, Ackerville Stadium, but it can be used only during the day because of poor lights at the stadium. Last month Aces had to play their playoff home game against Carara Kicks at the LC de Villiers Stadium in Pretoria.

It is alleged that ahead of the match Aces again approached the rugby union to use the Witbank Stadium, but the union refused to give them permission.

”The union assured the Mpumalanga government that we will not use the stadium. We have a day venue and nothing for the evening games. We just don’t know what to do,” says Moroape.

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Lucky Sindane
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