During this season, the NFD boasted an astonishing total of seventy-six clubs, which were divided into four separate streams, Northern, Southern, Western Cape and Natal/Eastern Cape.
Black Leopards, who fought for supremacy with the likes of Ria Stars, Dynamos, RP Mines, Acornbush, Ravens and Pretoria Callies, were crowned Northern champions but failed in the promotional Play-Offs, as did their Southern counterparts, Tembisa Classic, which had finished above Rockridge, Spartak, Black Bees, Sporting, Robertsham Callies and Mighty Birds.
Affiliated to the Northern & Southern Streams were twenty-two clubs which meant that by the time Leopards and Classic did win their regional groups they had already played forty-two matches, whereas in the smaller Western Cape and Natal/Eastern Cape divisions - with only sixteen teams participating - the respective victors, Santos and African Wanderers, after far less fixtures both easily won the ultimate prize of reaching the PSL.
Santos wacked Mutual United 11-0, Stephanians 8-1 and Norway Parks 6-0 then continued their good work by also thrashing Leopards 6-0 in the Play-Offs with striker David Notoane celebrating his hat-trick and Shaun Bester grabbing a brace.
Wanderers had likewise, humiliated Crusaders 10-0, crushed Tembu Royals 7-0, licked Liverpool 7-2 and were the most consistent side in the Play-Offs thanks to men like Siyabonga Nomvete, Sifiso Gcaba, Sibusiso Ngcobo and Bheki Goba.
With new sponsor, United Bank, bringing in some much-needed cash, the number of NFD clubs was significantly slashed to almost half, as the four streams were replaced by two of 20 clubs each.
As a result, when the Inland and Coastal Divisions kicked off there was no room for teams such as Witbank City, Barberton, Middleburg, Giant Aces, Winter Roses, Crusaders, Newcastle, Real Taj, Norway Parks, Newtons or Camps Bay - all had failed to keep up with the leaders in 1996/97!
After another long season of 38 games, unbeaten Seven Stars, which was formed in 1995 out of a desire to bring top-class soccer to the townships of Cape Town, hit the jackpot as Coastal Champions with coach, Gavin Hunt.
Under chairman Rob Moore and his vice Enoch Guwa, Stars’ talented team that included John Goodwin, Andile Sixaba, Sugars Qinga, Bennet Masinga, George Dearnaley, Mike Allen, Cedric Nakhumwa, Simphiwe Thomas and Mike Mhlanga their inspirational captain, rose to the occasion, netting 96 goals, conceding just 16 and winning automatic promotion.
In fact, they’d been through an amazing 80 games without defeat, having finished as runners-up four points behind Santos the previous campaign then overpowering the likes of Warriors, Wynberg St John, Saxon Rovers, Lamontville Golden Arrows, Avendale Athletico and Park United.
Dynamos were also on song in the Inland Stream as Peter Rabali’s outfit completed their programme ten points ahead of Witbank Aces, once pummelling the ‘not so’ Mighty Birds 8-0 and showing their closest rivals, Tembisa Classic, Ria Stars, All Nations, Spartak, Unisaints and Black Leopards, who was best equipped for the push-up into the PSL.
Here again, the number of clubs were cut, especially in the Coastal Stream which was downsized to just fourteen outfits resulting in 1997/98 underachievers Blues United, Stanger United, Mitchells Plain United, Newcastle Blizzards, Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers were forced to ply their trade in the third tier.
However, there was still the opportunity for some great soccer and yo-yo specialists, African Wanderers, once more triumphed when it counted most, pipping second-placed Avendale Athletico by just four points with most of their goals coming from Thokozani Xaba and S’nothi Mthalane.
Inland Champs, Tembisa Classic finally achieved their dream of reaching the lucrative PSL after good work from coach, Khabo Zondo and equally proficient scoring by the slightly-built Isaac Masanabo who netted 21 of his team’s 55 goals.
Ria Stars were runners-up followed by Real Rovers, Unisaints, Young Tigers and Sporting while the relegation axe fell upon Mkhuhlu United, Giant Killers and Tsakane Aces as well as Coastal flops, Tornado of East London, which could only muster a mere 9 points out of a possible 78.
While Lamontville Golden Arrows and Ria Stars celebrated automatic promotion following top finishes in the Coastal and Inland Streams, respectively, it was the demise of two well-known clubs, Durban Bush Bucks, the 1985 NSL First Division winners, and Vaal Professionals, 1971 inaugural Castle League competitors - that made for some painful reflection!
Bucks formed in 1902 had failed dismally, finishing with an astonishing goal difference of -41 after collecting just two wins all season while Pros of Sharpville ended their long reign in the pro ranks on -46.
Arrows with Bheka Phakathi, Nhlanhla Mshibe and Lucky Sibeko on song had some good results, whipping relegated Trinitarians 7-0, Premier United 6-0 and twice beating local rivals, Durban United 3-0 while Stars, which lost the First Division Champion of Champions 3-2 to Abafana Bes’thende, interestingly, had a young Lucky Lekgwathi in defence.
Also falling from grace were the Eastern Cape’s Blackburn Rovers.
David Thidiela’s Black Leopards, who had been knocking on the PSL door for a number of seasons, moved out of the NFD after a determined campaign in which they left nearest challenger, Bloemfontein Young Tigers, thirteen points in the lurch.
Other Inland equipments such as Mabopane Young Masters, Dobsonville All Nations, Ledwaba Power Stars and City Sharks also tried hard but were no match for Leopards’ stars Joel Masutha, Victor Mathelemusa, Godfrey Ramudzuli, Albert Mashadu, the scorer of numerous goals, Mulondo Sikhwivhilu and David Motale.
In the Coastal stream, AmaZulu romped home to victory yet they were pushed very hard by Port Elizabeth’s Park United that fell a mere point short of bring top-flight soccer to the Windy City. It was basically a two-horse race, this duo were streets ahead of opponents Saxon Rovers, Maritzburg City, Avendale Athletic, Premier United and FC Fortune.
At the bottom end of the log, the new millennium was unkind to Arcadia Shepherds relegated just prior to celebrating a century of rich football following two seasons at this level but the Pretoria club will be always be remembered for their great NPSL performances between 1978 and 1986.
Another team which bit the dust was former PSL outfit Real Rovers, sadly plummeting into the third tier after earning a mere six points and conceding 88 goals with an unforgettable goal difference of -68!
The Coastal Stream had a very familiar look to it with promoted African Wanderers and Keith Bougaard’s Avendale Athletico ironically sharing the same positions they’d occupied in 1998/99 and almost the same number of points too.
But when Abaqulusi with their well-documented ‘yo-yoing’ between the elite and lower ranks, made almost certain of another triumphant return to the PSL with an important 1-0 victory over Athletico at Cape Town’s Hartleyvale Stadium on 27 April 2002, local fans were left with a sour taste after witnessing their side have a good-looking goal disallowed – amid allegations of corruption and bribery!
While the men in their green and white jerseys (with red shorts) celebrated, Bougaard was left to ponder his future as a club owner after spending millions of Rands in a push for PSL status only to fall at the final hurdle time and time again.
Bottom-of-the-log Mother City tumbled into the Second Division as did Stellenbosch’s Newtons which was formed back in 1905, a year prior to when labourers from KZN Midlands’ got Abaqulusi off the ground.
Dynamos also returned to ‘big-time’ soccer after outwitting runners-up Silver Stars by four points in the Inland League that included fifth-placed Bloemfontein Celtic, however, getting the chop following a long run of defeats were Katlehong City and Mamelodi Juventus.
Slick Silver Stars, under the astute guidance of their mentor Owen da Gama reached the dizzy heights of the money-spinning top-flight, following a fantastic display of cut-thrust football where the team netted 69 goals in 30 games while letting in only 15.
Stars had a great strike force with Surprise Moriri (13), Albert Mushadu (8), Koketso Mmotong (7) and Jan Motloung (6) grabbing most of the goals but towards the end of their campaign when the Lions of the North thrashed both Spartak and Dangerous Aces 5-0, midfielder Jabulani Nkosi was on song with a brace and hat-trick, while other stars included goalkeeper Johannes Diale, defender Oscar Ntwagae, sweeper Michael Khaile and midfielder Daniel Tshabalala.
Equally impressive that season was AmaZulu which beat closest challenger, Premier United, by two points to take honours in the 14-club Coastal Stream and with it another chance to show their worth in the elite league.
Everybody chipped in as far as Usuthu’s goals were concerned with Tauya Mrewa, Xolina Zunga (both 7), Njinga Mathebula and Japie Arries (5 each) doing most of the damage as the Durban side got the better of outfits such as Basothu Tigers, FC Fortune, Uthukela Royal Tigers and Kimberley’s oldest club William Pescod, established in 1936.
Only two sides went down, one from each division, (Spartak and Port Elizabeth Technikon) which fell far short of the standard set.
This was a very interesting season in which all clubs had to fight for their lives due to the knowledge that almost half were scheduled to be relegated due to the implementation of a single league for 2004/05.
So while the champions, Bloemfontein Celtic and Bush Bucks (Umtata), enjoyed acquiring their PSL statuses after finishing well above all the respective competitors, it was largely a campaign of nerves for those that didn’t have the correct pedigree.
Phunya Sele Sele under coach, Aiki Ayiomamitis had some good wins thrashing Sporting FC 7-0, Dangerous Darkies 4-0 and Welkom Stars 5-2 but they did fall to two big rivals, Free State Stars 3-4 and Bloemfontein Young Tigers 0-2.
Celtic’s Players of the Year were dedicated captain Lehlohonolo Seema and top striker Cecil Oerson (12 goals). Other marksmen included Christian Nwaokorie (10), Moses Spandeel (8) while some of the other stars were goalkeeper Simon Gopane, veteran defender Willem Vries and midfielder Abram Nteo.
The wisdom of influential mentor Mlungisi ‘Professor’ Ngubane played a major role in helping Bucks back into the top-flight as Tauya Mrewa again hit fine form with 17 fine finishes which meant Coastal teams Park United, Rainbow Stars, Maritzburg City, Premier United, African Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers missed the cut while eight Inland clubs were also chopped including the popular Dobsonville All Nations and Alexandra United.
The 18-team Mvela Golden League launch brought a new dimension to the second tier as clubs from virtually all eight provinces, fought tooth and nail under the banner of sponsor Mvelaphanda Holdings, which together with its corresponding ‘Platinum Play-Offs’ - helped lift the brand considerably!
Matches kicked off in late August 2004 and by May 2005, Free State Stars were automatically in the PSL thanks largely to a fine team effort under Roy Barreto, whose charges had consistently kept a good game plan.
James Mokoena with 12 strikes was Stars’ leading marksman but Chris Mwamba’s five-goal haul against Avendale will always be remembered.
Clubs that finished in positions second (Durban Stars) third (Hellenic) and fourth (Classic) participated in the ‘Platinum Play-Offs’ together with PSL struggler Manning Rangers, and at the end of an exciting tournament, it was Tembisa Classic which won the right to play in the top division after beating Hellenic 4-2 on aggregate.
Bongani Mdluli was Yizo-Yizo’s hero, netting 16 goals during the season, amidst great scenes of excitement at the Mehlareng Stadium but those shouts of joy soon turned to sorrow when club owner Thabo Masilela sold the franchise to Farouk Kadodia of Maritzburg United.
The league’s top marksmen were Hellenic’s Sello Mhlambi (21) and Fadlu Davids (19) of Vasco da Gama, who was voted NFD Player of the Year.
Dangerous Darkies, North West Tigers, Avendale Athletico and Louisvale Pirates went down to the Vodacom Promotional League.
Bidvest Wits literally cruised to the Mvela Golden League title, smashing in goals left, right and centre with Boebie Solomons’ side ending a great campaign twelve points ahead of City Pillars.
Most opponents felt Wits’ wrath as their top scorer Boitumelo Moleyane ran amok with 13 goals but the Golden Boot prize went to Mabopane Young Masters’ Desmond Chauke (16), his club finished sixth, while Pillars’ front men Teko Modise (NFD Player of the Season) and Myron Shongwe both ended on the same number of strikes as the Wits’ hero Moleyane.
Vasco da Gama was third; Benoni Premier United (formerly Hellenic) also reached the Platinum Play-Offs that included the PSL’s fifteenth-placed Bush Bucks.
These exciting games reached fever pitch in Cape Town where Vasco and Benoni met for the second leg after a 0-0 stalemate in Johannesburg but a late goal from Rabbits’ captain, July Mahlangu, meant the controversial Dumisani Ndlovu had suddenly become a proud PSL club owner.
Colin Gie’s FC Fortune and Bloemfontein Young Tigers both found themselves stuck in the relegation quagmire having won only five games.
This was a walk in the park for champions, Free State Stars, who ended a fantastic season eighteen points ahead of nearest rivals, Winners Park, and completed their league programme with a record goal difference of + 48.
Ea Lla Koto steamrolled opposition, crushing both PJ Stars and OR Tambo Cosmos 6-0 while on thirteen occasions they put the ball into the net three times or more, and long before the end started celebrating a return to the PSL.
Interestingly, four of Stars’ men hit double figures, Diyo Sibisi, who shared the Mvela Golden League Golden Boot award with Durban Stars’ Stembiso Ngcobo (both 19 goals), Jimmy Zakazaka (13), Duncan Lechesa and Sifiso Vilakazi (11 each).
Some of the division’s other top scorers included Fidentia Rangers’ Fees Moloi (14), Western Province United’s Ashley Hartog (12) and Vasco’s Marcelino Johnson (10).
University of Pretoria’s Dumisani Masilela (9) picked up the Golden League Player of the Year prize but his team failed in the finals of the Platinum Play-Offs, eventually going down 1-3 to PSL incumbents’ AmaZulu at Princess Magogo Stadium.
The two clubs which bit the dust after poor displays were the Eastern Cape’s OR Tambo Cosmos and PJ Stars.
With the three-year contract of the Mvela Golden League coming to an end, NFD clubs were once again divided into the familiar Coastal and Inland stream scenario but unlike previous campaigns, where there was up to sixteen sides in each division – this time a mere eight teams competed.
Maritzburg United won the Coastal League, two points higher than Bay United, while in the other stream, FC AK finished six ahead of Dynamos yet that was as far as the Eldorado Park-based team got.
They were easily overrun 3-1 over two legs by the First Division Champions, Maritzburg and although AK did reach the Premier League Promotion/Relegation Play-Offs Final, succumbed 2-1 to a slicker Bay United which meant two Coastal outfits were promoted.
Maritzburg’s Fadlu Davids, who hit a total of 15 goals, including 3 in the Play-Offs, won the Coastal Golden Boot award, while his Inland counterpart was Reason Chiloane, with 14 strikes for relegated Ga-Rankuwa United.
There were also accolades handed out to iKapa Sporting’s Kurt Lentjies (Coastal Stream Player of the Season) and Joseph Mthombeni of Dynamos, whose 10 goals went a long way towards his Inland Player of the Season award.
Western Province United, which finished five points behind Hanover Park, also fell into the amateur ranks.
This season saw an exciting, tight finish in both streams as Coastal winners’ Carara Kicks edged out Errol Dicks’ FC Cape Town on goal difference whilst Jomo Cosmos pipped Mpumalanga Black Aces by a single point in their Inland Division.
However here again, a team that won the overall league standings didn’t manage to make an impression in the Play-Offs, in this case it was Carara Kicks who fell well short, losing the First Division Championship to promoted Cosmos, and then being ousted further down the line by Black Aces which eventually also claimed a spot in the PSL after knocking Thanda Royal Zulu off their pedestal.
With men like Avril Phali, Bamuza Sono, Ousmane Berthe, Gaoussou Diarra and Lazarus Kaimbi, Ezenkosi were always going to be too strong for most opponents although Aces and University of Pretoria gave them a good run for their money.
As far as the First Division top-goal scorers were concerned, Kicks’ Kingston Nkhatha with eleven strikes to his name won the Golden Boot in his division while two men, Ndumiso Mabena (Winners Park) and Thabo Moleko (AmaTuks) grabbed the equivalent award after each netting eight in the Inland Stream.
Moleko’s team mate, Andile Jali, had begun to show his great potential.
Bottom-of-the-logs Durban Stars and FC AK were sent packing following a string of poor results.
Coastal Stream winners Vasco da Gama celebrated their thirtieth anniversary in conjunction with a step up to the PSL after overpowering their Inland counterparts, Black Leopards, 3-2 over two legs.
On 7 March 2010, Vasco’s Parow Park was the scene of much jubilation as Leopards lost their spots to a late Keenin Lesch penalty, sending the Cape side into the top flight for the first time in their history.
It was a great feeling for individuals such as Bradley August, Marlon Pitts, Angelo Julius (Vasco’s Player of the Season), Marvin Bean, Roberto do Espirito Santo, Zeka Karkee and Jonathan Armogam whereas Leopards were left hoping to make amends during the Premier League Promotion/Relegation Play-Offs.
And although David Thidiela’s side sent runners-up African Warriors packing to the aggregate tune of 6-3, they slipped up yet again, going down 5-3 on penalties to PSL underperformers Mpumalanga Black Aces who remained in the top league.
Tebogo Mashaba (Batau FC) and Dynamos’ Mulondo Sikhwivhilu with eleven goals each, won recognition for their exploits in front of goal, however, two teams, iKapa Sporting and Winners Park, dropped into the lower ranks.
Coastal Stream bigwigs, Bay United and Thanda Royal Zulu both executed good runs, completing their 21-game programmes way ahead of nearest rivals, Carara Kicks and African Warriors yet it was the more experienced campaigners, Jomo Cosmos, who together with Black Leopards, actually made their seasons count most.
Cosmos in particular, hardly put a foot wrong, losing just twice to accumulate a total of forty-seven points, nine ahead of Leopards and twenty above fourth-placed FC AK.
Furthermore, they were promoted to the ABSA Premiership on 22 May 2011 following an anxious 5-4 penalty shoot-out victory over Bay United who also failed in the Play-Off Final, as Leopards won 2-0 with goals from Mongezi Bobe and Raymond Monama.
First Division top scorers were Leopards’ Rodney Ramagalela (14), Kicks’ Atusaye Nyondo (13) while Warriors’ Bulelani Matross and Yiseka Mathonsi of Batau FC both finished on ten.
The two clubs that were dismissed into the lower echelons, Hanover Park FC and Batau FC, played well below the expected standard, and it came to no surprise to see them slipping through the trap door.