/ 17 December 2010

Learning about the Birds and the Bucs

It has been punted with a great deal of nostalgia as the original Soweto derby — an emotional and tempestuous confrontation between old rivals who ruled the roost in the townships before the advent of Kaizer Chiefs.

But, truthfully, as Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows gear up for another chapter in the derby at Dobsonville Stadium on Saturday, it is not like the old days.

Pirates, for their part, are still sailing along in the right direction — not always smoothly, with the turbulence clearly apparent in recent weeks.
They lost twice to Chiefs in a matter of weeks, in the second case, crumbling to a 3-0 defeat in the Telkom final — it was what their fans consider the ultimate humiliation.

Still, third place in the Premier League table, three successive finals this season and ending a trophyless drought by annexing the lucrative MTN8 trophy is not that bad.

But the prime prize of emerging as PSL champions after more than eight years looks a distance away, with ix points separating them from current log leaders, Mamelodi Sundowns.

For Swallows, however, the past few months have been a plummeting, well-nigh disastrous nightmare, even though they were only overshadowed in the MTN8 final by the Buccaneers after a penalty shoot-out.

The Birds are probably at their lowest ebb – at the bottom of the Premier League table — since the club’s inception in 1947.

Without a victory in 10 matches and having gleaned only three points from three draws, the spectre of relegation is very real for the Birds.

But for their salvation Swallows are looking to new coach Gordon Igesund, who was dubbed “the Golden Boy” in PSL circles after guiding four clubs — Manning Rangers, Santos, Pirates and Sundowns — to a record four titles.

He has also been on a downward path during the past few seasons, but he is a fighter, an optimist and can justifiably claim to be a winner.

He might just be the right man to revive Swallows and on the evidence of his first outing — a creditable 1-1 away draw against canny Santos in Cape Town — he looks a great deal better equipped for the task than his bewildered and seemingly lost predecessor, the former Bayern Munich star Ranier Zobel.

Ironically, in these lop-sided circumstances, Pirates coach Ruud Krol, a former Netherlands great, is also feeling the heat from a rabid segment of Buccaneers supporters.

Krol says reports of his imminent demise as the Pirates’ coach are a figment of the imagination of the sensational element of the sporting media — and his record provides evidence enough that he is right.

But in the precarious business of soccer management you never can tell.

Needless to say, victory is paramount for both coaches and no quarter will be given or asked for in what seems likely to be a tense, ferocious and evenly matched battle in spite of the disparity between the teams’ current standings.

Hopefully the Birds and the Buccaneers will also muster a measure of the explosive yet clinical football that once made their matches legendary.

One’s memory is lured back 30 years to probably the greatest Pirates-Swallows derby of them all — the dramatic 3-2 win for the ­Buccaneers in a Mainstay Cup final at the old Orlando Stadium in front of an enthralled 50000-plus crowd.

As the great rivals prepare to enact another chapter in “the original Soweto derby” the question that comes to mind is whether Pirates and Swallows can again produce a similar classic — or at least something close to it.

Former Bafana and South Africa under-23 coach Shakes Mashaba has more reason to recall the greatest derby of all than most for, although he appeared in Swallows’ maroon colours on the day, he was also a Pirates stalwart during his auspicious playing career.

“No one who was there will ever forget that game,” he says.

Perhaps one can only dream of another such classic.

In the ageing but still potentially mesmerising Siyabonga Nomvethe Swallows have a match-winning luminary in the old tradition.

Pirates have talented footballers who can sway a match as well, with the likes of Andile Jale and Isaac Chansa, if he is fit enough after a lengthy absence through injury.

But they will be without furtive goal-grabber Daine Klate because of a suspension — and this could help to even the odds between the teams.