Cape Town - It was poignantly described by Highlands Park coach Owen Da Gama as "history revisited" as they attempt to reach a first major soccer final in 36 years in the MTN 8 second-leg semi-final against Polokwane City at the Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa on Tuesday night after the first-leg ended in a goalless draw.
The club who became known famously as "The Lions of the North" for the feats as South African soccer's most successful soccer club in the 1960s, with multi-NFL League titles to their credit, effectively went out of existence as a professional entity in 1983 when Highlands sold the NPSL franchise in which it was the 1980 champions to Jomo Sono shortly after losing the Top 8 Final against Orlando Pirates, with Sono immediately instituting a name change to Jomo Cosmos.
After maintaining an existence in the junior and amateur ranks until approximately five years ago, Highlands resurfaced as a professional force under enterprising chairperson Brad Kaftel in the PSL's NFD, before cementing promotion in the Absa Premiership last season by finishing seventh in the log and thereby qualifying for the current Top Eight event.
"I believe it’s a great boost for our soccer when a club like Highlands is reborn," says Da Gama, "and our ambition now is to again become one of the top clubs in the country. Progress in the past two years has been quite amazing and reaching the MTN 8 final would be a great incentive to take a further step in the right direction."
But the Highlands coach is taking nothing for granted against what he describes as "tough, tricky opponents"" in Polokwane City.
"The Lions of the North", however, are leaving no stone unturned in an effort to feature in a major final again, with the possibility of seasoned former Bafana Bafana, Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United midfield schemer, Reneilwe 'Yeye' Letsholonyane roped in as a 24th-hour signing before Tuesday's kick-off.
"'Yeye' has been training with us for several weeks," said Da Gama, "even playing in friendly games. But there are still a couple of loose ends that need to be sorted out before him signing for Highlands. We are continuing negotiations and we’ll just have to wait and see how they materialise."