Cape Town - It was a long time in coming!
But on Saturday afternoon, Highlands Park gained a measure of revenge for the controversial Cup Final defeat against Kaizer Chiefs 41 years ago with a nail-biting 6-5 penalty shoot-out victory at the rain-swept Mukhulong Stdium after finishing 1-1 after extra-time in the Nedbank Cup last 16 clash.
Julian Turner, the historian of the club known as the "Lions of the North”, recalls how Highlands Park suffered a bitter loss in the replay of what was then known as the 1979 Mainstay Cup final at Orlando Stadium after believing they had won the game "fair and square" in the original final at the Rand Stadium.
"The score at the jam-packed Rand Stadium was 3-3 in the last minute of extra-time when Andy Stanton headed home what appeared a perfectly good winning goal following a corner," said Turner, "but instead referee Dave Griffith disallowed the score and the outcome was then settled when Chiefs won the replay 2-0 in the reply at the Orlando Stadium four days later."
The Highlands' historian says Griffith later admitted he had only disallowed Stanton's goal because the atmosphere was so high-charged at a combustible Rand Stadium over-crowded with 50 000 spectators dominated almost entirely by Chiefs supporters that he feared "lives could have been at stake" had the game ended with a shock late winner deciding the outcome.
"The game took place during the early teething days of non-racial soccer in apartheid-torn South Africa," added Turner, "and emotions were at boiling point. When the final was replayed at Orlando Stadium, Chiefs gained an early ascendancy and controlled the outcome."
Turner points out that since 1979 Highlands and Chiefs had not crossed swords in a South African Cup match in 41 years, with Highlands having sold their NPSL franchise to what was to become Jomo Cosmos in 1982 and only returning to the mainstream of South African soccer three seasons ago.
"Playing and beating a team of Chiefs' renown is always something special," says Highlands chairperson Brad Kaftel, "but recalling that historic clash 41 years ago does add a little extra nostalgia and satisfaction to the occasion."
And with Highlands in the 1960s emerging the glamour club of South African soccer and Chiefs taking over this mantle in more recent times, the matches between "The Lions of the North" and Amakhosi contain a special element of fascination, with the topsy-turvy, grimly-fought nature of Saturday's game no exception.