“We have done miracles,” a proud Tim Sukazi, owner of TS Galaxy, said in the bowels of Moses Mabhida Stadium with his daughters by his side.
The former agent-turned-club owner took some convincing to do the interview following the biggest upset in South African football. It’s not that he didn’t want to talk, but that he couldn’t find someone to look after his daughters while he followed a group of journalists to a quiet place, away from the buzzing foyer where everyone wanted to take a picture with him.
A number of journalists volunteered to babysit, just so long as they could get Sukazi to talk about his new bundle of joy – the 10-month-old club that defeated 49-year-old Kaizer Chiefs who have won every knockout competition in the country a record number of times, including the Nedbank Cup they lost 1-0 to the plucky National First Division side.
Galaxy’s win was of biblical proportions. The souls who crammed into a sold-out Moses Mabhida Stadium can claim that they saw, in real life, David slaying Goliath. This David didn’t use a sling, that wouldn’t have been aesthetically pleasing enough for coach Dann Malesela who cares more about how his team wins rather than the victory itself. This David used an enterprising brand of football that hypnotised Amakhosi before knocking them out with a sucker-punch in optional time through Zakhele Lepasa’s penalty. If David existed, Galaxy would be his role model – not the other way around.
The making of champions
Galaxy were only 13 days old when Kaizer Chiefs appointed Giovanni Solinas on 13 July with the mandate of stopping the rot that had seen the club go three seasons without a trophy. Sukazi purchased the status of Cape Town All Stars and relocated the club to Mpumalanga. It was poetic justice of some sort because money had robbed the province of a professional club after John Comitis purchased Mpumalanga Black Aces, took it to the Mother City and renamed it Cape Town City.
Sukazi reversed that, somewhat – and instantly a hero was born with the Rockets enjoying sold-out crowds regularly at Kameelrivier Stadium in KwaNdebele.
“When we got the licence to play in the professional ranks, we were authorised with effect from the first of July 2018,” Sukazi said. “By then, the fixtures were out that we were playing our first match on the 19th of August. We had six weeks. At that time I didn’t have a player, a coach or a manager. It was me and the authorisation letter from the league. We had to assemble this team in no time, not only just assemble a team but also ensure that it is a team that will compete reasonably at the professional level. We have done miracles.”
The two pillars of this team, coach Dan Malesela along with captain and No. 1 goalkeeper, Ludwe Mpakumpaku, were in the Eastern Cape with Chippa United when the Rockets shot into focus. Mpakumpaku, 25, was the only player Galaxy had when Sukazi took over as he still had a contract with All Stars. But while Sukazi was building the team, the lad from Butterworth had returned to his home province and was on the verge of realising his dream of finally playing in the elite league when Galaxy recalled him from the Chilli Boys.
Failed move was a blessing in disguise
“I had to come back because I still had a contract with this team,” Mpakumpaku said. “They didn’t agree [on a deal with Chippa United]. I don’t know why they didn’t agree. You know negotiations don’t always work out. So I had to come back very late, after they had already finished the pre-season. I had to wait on the bench because I couldn’t come from ‘nowhere’ and then just start. I missed the first four games.”
Mpakumpaku was far from pleased at returning to the first division, a tier he has been trying to leave for nine years.
“It was a huge disappointment, I even thought about quitting the game. It was that bad. I remember when I came back for the first game, I couldn’t accept it because [playing in the Premier Division] was something that I had waited for so long and worked so hard for. When the opportunity came and I couldn’t go, it was so hard. But I had to come back, re-adjust and give it my all. Luckily I had a friend [Masizakhe Myataza] who I made when I was at Chippa who is also a goalkeeper [at Galaxy]. He helped me re-focus and work hard.”
That hard work was rewarded with the No. 1 jersey and the armband. He was still wearing his armband when he left Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday night even though he had changed from his all-white kit to the club’s navy suit and red shirt. The armband was placed with pride on his left arm.
“Maybe I stayed this long in this league to achieve things,” Mpakumpaku said. “I am the first NFD captain to lift this cup. It’s a big achievement for the team. This team has only been in existence for a couple of months yet we have achieved something this great. I am hoping and praying that something good comes up because it has been long [in the NFD], age will eventually catch up with me. I think that it’s about time that something comes up.”
‘We are the champions, no time for losers’
Mpakumpaku lifted the Nedbank Cup with Queen’s We Are The Champions playing at full blast. The lyrics of the song drove home what just happened. While the line “we are the champions” celebrated Galaxy’s triumph, the “no time for losers part” must have hit hard at Amakhosi who have gone an unprecedented four seasons without a trophy.
Ernst Middendorp entered the stadium’s auditorium like a dead man walking. His strides were languid and his voice strained, even with the assistance of a microphone. The German wasn’t himself. He wasn’t angry. Normally after a disappointing results he barks at journalists when they ask uncomfortable questions. But on Saturday night he was calm and responded to some of the questions with one word answers, another anomaly when it comes to Middendorp who always has something to say.
“This is a huge, embarrassing, shocking and disappointing result, not winning this cup against an opponent from a lower league,” the German laboured to say as he was made to account for the club’s disastrous season that also saw them finishing ninth in the Absa Premiership.
“We definitely, in general, have to sit down and see what’s happening, not only in the last [couple of] months but look at what has happened at Kaizer Chiefs in the last [couple of] years. We will definitely have a discussion and we definitely have to make decisions and look forward to what’s best for the club.”
Middendorp faced the firing squad alone. Jesicca Motaung – the club’s marketing director and daughter of Chiefs’ boss Kaizer Motaung – listened attentively as she sat among journalists with disappointment written all over her face. Middendorp was the wrong person to offer a diagnosis of Chiefs’ woes.
He only joined the club in December, after Amakhosi had already hit the iceberg. Middendorp replaced a coach who shouldn’t have been at Chiefs in the first place. Giovanni Solinas’ appointment perfectly explained how the mighty have fallen.
The Italian was out of his depth with a CV that should have seen him not even mentioned in the search for a Chiefs’ coach let alone being interviewed and eventually hired. His trend of not winning major titles and not staying that long in a single club continued. His appointment was a knee-jerk reaction for Amakhosi who couldn’t get their preferred candidates – Patrice Carteron and Hossam el-Badry who were lured by more money in Egypt. With Middendorp playing it cool, former Chiefs’ defender Siboniso Gaxa offered a brutal assessment of Amakhosi.
A former chief saddened by the status quo
“It’s sad that a big club like Kaizer Chiefs is where it is today,” Gaxa said. “It’s sad because it’s not just any team, it’s a team that I played for. What makes me sadder is that the management keeps making the same mistakes over and over again. There is no learning. It’s either there is no willingness to learn or there are internal issues. I don’t think that this is a football problem, it’s more of an internal problem from management’s side. It keeps happening. The management needs to decide if they want this brand to be relevant or be a laughing stock.”
Gaxa continued, “They must make a decision. But the unfortunate part is that the people on the ground [the fans] are the ones suffering. They are the ones who are spending their money and they are the ones in tears. Some of them have given up. I am hoping that they will turn around and fix things. This is a big brand, you can’t ignore what they have done especially during apartheid where the only way the people could be entertained is through football. They need to change things. They are in a deep sad situation, they need to change things.”
The club’s management have performed dismally in recruiting players. It’s become normal in the last four seasons for Amakhosi to make wholesale signings, only to offload the bulk of those players at the end of a disappointing campaign. A number of those signings were of players whose quality doesn’t warrant playing for a championship-chasing team.
Heavy security presence
Two casspirs, one old and the other modern, stood menacingly in two of the four emergency exits at Moses Mabhida Stadium. Those vehicles were part of the tight security measures the Premier Soccer League and the Durban Municipality put in place to ensure nothing happened. Even though Chiefs preach “Love and Peace” that mantra isn’t practised by their fans – especially when times are tough.
Last year Chiefs’ thugs ran amok after the club lost to Free State Stars in the semifinal of the Nedbank Cup. They beat Sabelo Maziba almost to death along with another security guard who was heavily injured. They also destroyed millions rand worth of broadcasting equipment and stadium infrastructure. There was no such riot on Saturday.
The only “riot” that took place was of a peaceful kind – Galaxy players and their technical team running across the field with the Nedbank Cup to celebrate with their supporters. Malesela credited the fans for their victory, revealing that the sold-out crowds they play in front of at Kameelrivier prepared them well for the thousands who loudly backed Amakhosi in the final.
“A different team would have been probably 4-0 down at halftime because of the atmosphere,” Malesela said, wearing his gold medal.
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that the former Chippa United coach slept with his gold medal – his first winner’s medal in a tumultuous coaching career in the professional ranks. The coach who was fired after just three games into the 2018-19 season shut down this campaign as a champion, upsetting history and expectations.
It would have been easy for Malesela to feel dejected after another embarrassing spell at Chippa, but it was nothing new as he faced similar treatment at Cape Town All Stars, Garankuwa United and Winners Park.
“The clubs that I have coached before taught me a lot of lessons,” Malesela said. “Realistically, and truthfully, these are the fruits of those lessons (he says pointing at his gold medal). I am hoping that this is just the beginning of bigger things to come. My saddest moment in football is when people tell me that, ‘Dan, your teams are playing well. You’re such a great coach. There’s flair and we enjoy it.’
“The evidence is there, people come. They don’t sit at home, people come. But people are doubting me. Sometimes I spend six months at home without working and not coaching, and I ask myself what have I done? You look at another club and you ask yourself, ‘badlalani labantu?’ (What football are these people playing?) They just kick the ball forward, kumnandi (it’s fun). Boom! The header goes in and amen! There’s no time where people (he whistles). In South Africa we whistle and get excited when we are entertained. That’s the saddest moment I have in football, kanti ngenzeni engaka madoda? (What have I done that’s this unforgettable?)”
‘I don’t google’
“The people that I work with will tell you, the things that I do at training, they have never seen before because I don’t google. I don’t copy anybody. I create! I am not just praising myself, you can ask anyone in my technical team and they will tell you. The saddest thing about us here [is that we don’t value our own], and I am not saying that hire me or do this, but really people? Hhayi suka! (Come on!)”
Malesela’s influence played a big role in attracting thousands of fans in Galaxy’s home matches with the entertaining brand of football the team plays. But Galaxy didn’t just end there, they have ingrained themselves in the KwaNdebele community even though their training base is in Johannesburg.
Sukazi invited renowned artist, Dr Esther Mahlangu – not only a Ndebele but also a global icon – when he received the R7 million cheque from Nedbank. Just like Mahlangu’s creations, Galaxy produced a colourful masterpiece in their march to making history and make the Ndebele people proud as they finally have their own professional team.
“I thought that the time for a new entrant in the game has arrived,” Sukazi said as he explained his vision and drive to establish TS Galaxy. “The current establishment is here, it exists, they are strong and they have achieved a lot, but I thought that there are instances where certain clubs have hit the ceiling. There became a need for a new club with fresh ideas that can contribute and maybe be a big asset in South Africa football. What pleases me the most is that we have made history by playing an all-South African team to win the national cup. We created history.”