There’s Magic in soul and self-belief

Spare a thought this weekend for young Ghaalib Avontuur, the most disappointed teenager on the planet. While the rest of his teammates at The Magic fly to Johannesburg for Sunday afternoon’s televised Nedbank Cup tie against Platinum Stars, Avontuur (19) will be studying for a supplementary maths exam on Monday.

He is doubtless feeling persecuted, as his dad, a teacher, insists that the boy gets a decent matric maths result. Perhaps they’ll put the awkward geometry of the generations temporarily aside and watch the match together?

The Magic are the child of former AmaZulu and occasional Bafana Bafana striker George Dearnaley. He bought the Old Mutual franchise from “Chippa” Mpengesi, of Chippa United fame, a few years ago and set about putting what he saw was wrong to rights.

With the help of former Bafana colleagues Mark Anderson and Gerald Stober, The Magic were created.

Coach George Dearnaley of Magic Cape Town (David Harrison, M&G)
Coach George Dearnaley of Magic Cape Town (David Harrison, M&G)

Dearnaley doesn’t pull aces from jacket sleeves but he has levered the club – average age 21 – on to the national stage, a situation about which they and their small band of followers are immensely proud.

“I’ve always liked the feel and can-do attitude of American sport in general,” he says. “And I think it’s magic that we can produce a player here that ends up in the PSL – that’s really how the name came about.”

No-name brand
With a troupe of essentially unknown amateur players, by their own admission they’re a no-name brand. Their home ground is at Old Mutual’s fields in Pinelands. They train a few times a week and life is considerably less glamorous than outsiders might like to believe.

This said, they do have a former Namibian international, Wilko Risser, in their ranks and, in skipper Marlon Opperman, Dearnaley believes they have a player who will ultimately go on to play under lights far bigger than what The Magic have.

Dearnaley isn’t letting any tactical cats out of the bag but he does mention that teams nowadays tend to play counterattacking football if they sense they’re weaker than their opponents. Everyone is playing with a single striker and this is what has led, he believes, to a countrywide lack of confidence in front of goals.

“It’s not only that, it’s lack of service. We just don’t have the David Modises and the Thando Mngomenis anymore. Yes, there’s Reneilwe Letsholonyane [at Kaiser Chiefs] and Teko [Modise at Sundowns] but you just don’t have those attacking midfielders any more, who can score 10 goals a season and give you 10 assists to go with it.”

One of the club talking points this week has been his players putting on a shirt with their name on the back – something they haven’t done up until now. They have needed to win six matches on the reel to get to the last 32 of the Nedbank Cup.

Players from Magic Cape Town need to set up their field before they can start. (David Harrison, M&G)
Players from Magic Cape Town need to set up their field before they can start. (David Harrison, M&G)

When I spoke to him this week, Dearnaley was frantically trying to secure a training session at Athlone Stadium so the players could experience playing at a really big, echoing venue. Anything to make Sunday afternoon’s nerve-racking experience slightly more familiar.

“My massive fear is that it falls apart on the day and we get hammered,” he says. “I don’t want their souls to be broken – these are kids – and a tough result could impact on our league performances, which haven’t been great because we’ve been concentrating on our cup run.”

Professional joys
Although Dearnaley is only too aware of the landmines and booby traps, he and his fellow magicians wouldn’t have it any other way. The tie affords the opportunity to fly from Cape Town to Jo’burg – something 17 of his squad have never done – and the professional joys of a pre-match meal at the team’s Rustenburg hotel.

Tournament rules stipulate that only a set number of players can travel and Dearnaley has forked out for a few extras – bar Avontuur – to make the trip. With possible disappointment lurking everywhere, he wants to see to it that everything is in place for the romance to unfold as everyone hopes it should.

“My players are phoning me and asking what they should tell journalists who are calling them,” he says with a laugh. “I say speak from the heart and just go out and enjoy the experience.”

The media palaver this week has reminded Dearnaley of AmaZulu’s Coca-Cola Cup run in 1992, the season in which he scored 23 league goals, still a club record. “Even our fans were expecting us to lose to [Kaizer] Chiefs in the final at Soccer City,” he says.

“They had no hesitation telling everyone we were going to get beaten, so everyone was against us. We went out and played with soul and self-belief and beat them 3-1, so anything’s possible.”

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