/ 7 April 2017

Dube Birds await phoenix

Echoes of greatness: As recently as 2010
Echoes of greatness: As recently as 2010

This week, a long-serving captain of Moroka Swallows admitted that the team needed to die in order to rise like the mystical phoenix. Indeed, the Dube Birds have forfeited their status as a giant of South African football.

Lefa Tsutsulupa castigated erstwhile management for running the club, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, into the ground. Swallows have been relegated to the fourth tier for three successive years.

Meanwhile, Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi is trying to buy the club out of its woes, but his plan to purchase the professional status of a Premier League club for Swallows is facing resistance from the club’s former director, Godfrey Gxowa.

Lesufi is, however, not deterred.

“We could not abandon the ship because if you do that, there’s a dispute about the name of that franchise,” said Lesufi, who is co-ordinating a consortium that wants to elevate Swallows back into the realm of top-flight football.

“Swallows is the name of that franchise and you can’t get it from the shelves. That is why we want to go through the formal process until we are sure we get a status with all the authority,” Lesufi said on Robert Marawa’s show on Metro FM.

“We just have to go back to the drawing board for the next three months, repackage a strategy and find a way of rescuing the team.”

Gxowa, however, vehemently rejects Lesufi’s plan, stressing that the demoted team must work its way back to the top.

“I will not accept this thing of purchasing the status of another club and renaming it Swallows,” said Gxowa. “That is a big no and I would rather we all got together to come up with a strategy that would assist us going forward.

“I am not dictating. I am just saying that this is the right time for everybody associated with Swallows to come together, and let us help one another in resuscitating our beloved Beautiful Birds,” added Gxowa.

This is precisely what Tsutsulupa said was the root cause of the demise of the team, with its tradition and culture deeply steeped in the dusty streets of Dube in Soweto.

“I am deeply saddened, but the writing has been on the wall for a very long time. This is what happens when you run a team the way Swallows officials did,” he said.

“Some people must take responsibility for what has happened. And maybe Swallows needed to die so that it can be started afresh by efficient and committed people.”

Former coach Gordon Igesund, who steered the club away from the drop zone and then missed winning the league championship by a whisker, is equally devastated.

“We escaped relegation and the following year missed winning the championship on the last day,” said Igesund. “And it was all because the German owner [Dieter Bock] died and his passing put a great strain on the shoulders of [chief executive] Leon Prins. Prins visited his family in Europe, but they did not want to have anything to do with the club. And so, unbeknown to us, Prins bankrolled the team from his pocket.

“However, you certainly cannot keep a professional team afloat for long unless if you have deep pockets and due to his limited resources, eventually his funds ran out.”

But Gxowa slammed the arrival of Neil Bernstein and Prins during 1999, claiming the duo set in motion events that put the team on a dangerous precipice to its current position.

“I remember warning the late former director Pine Chabeli that these people would not add any value to the team,” said Gxowa. “But he brushed me aside and requested me to give them a chance.

“The problem is that Swallows was run by people with expertise in rugby and did not understand the intricate dynamics of football. I hate to say this, but sometimes one got the impression that the relationship was like those colonial days of baasskap. It was a recipe for total disaster.”