'Lions of the North' set for PSL return

2016-06-13 11:44

Cape Town - Who says they never come back?  Now 34 years after they stunningly and unexpectedly sold their charismatic franchise to Jomo Cosmos, a revived Highlands Park are back and set to reclaim an erstwhile status of Premier League participants.

The 1-0 victory over Pretoria University in the PSL's play-offs before a visibly excited and voluble 10 000 crowd at Tembisa's Makhulong Stadium on Saturday has left the club renowned as "The Lions of the North" one game away from cementing their place in next season's Premier League.

And while a home victory over Mbombela United on Wednesday will seal one of the most memorable and for many years unforeseen and unexpected comebacks in South African soccer, because of Highlands vastly superior goal-difference a draw should end up doing the trick as well no matter what happens in the return fixture against Tuks - and even a defeat will still leave The Lions of the North as the best-placed of the three competing teams vying to seal promotion.

Ironical, as fate would have it, it will effectively be at the expense of Jomo Cosmos as well, with Jomo Sono's club having tasted the bitter pill of demotion from the Premier League for the fourth time.

In a nutshell too, Highlands see themselves afforded what current chairperson Brad Kaftel sees as a rare opportunity to restore a missing link to the disjointed chain of South African soccer.

At one time with the aura and glamour associated in more recent times with clubs like Mamelodi Sundowns, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, Highlands remained a club catering purely for junior soccer players, recalls Kaftel - "with those handling the administration driven purely by the love of the game and with scant thought of as much as forming a senior team - let alone returning to the big-time of what is now the PSL."

But the junior concept gradually evolved as the young players grew older and the need for a senior side emerged and took shape with entry into the vast spectrum of SAFA's amateur leagues.

"Gaining promotion to the PSL's NFD through the ranks of what has now become the myriad of Motsepe Leagues, with as many as 148 teams competing, is as tough an undertaking as anything in South African soccer," says the Highlands chairperson. "But we have surprised everyone not least ourselves."

And Kaftel, canny and experienced technical director Larry Brookstone, coach Allan Freese, assistant coach Thierry Molonzo and their enthusiastic and professional administrative crew are spurred by what one might term a magnificent obsession to follow in the footsteps of the great "Lions of the North"  teams that won a plethora of honours in the old NFL.

The team included players of the calibre of Brazilians Jorge Santoro  and Walter da Silva, Trevor Gething, Charlie Gough, Vasco Pegado, Neville Scott, Freddie Kalk, Bobby Hume, Stan Jacobitz, Malcolm Rufus, Willie McIntosh, Joe Frickleton, Neville Scott, John Stewart, George Ryder,  Martin Cohen, Bobby Viljoen, Chris Chilton and so many others.

The crux of the matter, as they see it, is to establish a unique club that will draw support and in time players from all the varied segments of the South African population.

"In the halcyon years of Highlands," says Kaftel, "the grim, crude apartheid laws of the country meant only white players could be considered for selection. But even then the club had a considerable base of black supporters from areas like Soweto, Alexandra Township and Tembisa.

"Today, as is the norm in South African soccer, the Highlands team is almost exclusively black and so is our supporter base - although there are signs of the old Highlands diehards beginning to demonstrate curiosity and interest in what we are doing.

"The objective now is to eventually marry the past, present and future and establish a rare soccer melting pot for the country in which players and followers from all population groups will participate and share."

Read more on:    highlands park  |  psl  |  soccer

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