Moroka Swallows will no doubt be one of the focal points when the NFD season kicks off on Saturday. Daniel Mothowagae and photographer Tebogo Letsie paid the revived club a visit in Soweto this week.
The friendly match between Moroka Swallows and Kaizer Chiefs at Dobsonville Stadium this week was a sort of re-enactment of what Soweto derbies used to be.
This is what the revamped Swallows are hoping for as they embark on a mission to return to the top ranks of local football.
The journey to revival starts on Saturday when the rebranded NFD, renamed the GladAfrica Championship, sets the 2019/20 season in motion.
Swallows, who campaigned in the ABC Motsepe League last season, will mark their return at Dobsonville Stadium against TS Sporting on Saturday.
Swallows coach Zeca Marques said: “As I sat on the bench the other day, I visualised the games against Chiefs, [Orlando] Pirates and [Mamelodi] Sundowns with a full capacity, great vibe ... there’s just something special about football at Dobsonville.
“Those are my fond memories and it makes me say ‘I want to get back up again’,” added the 57-year-old.
It is quite ironic that Marques has been tasked with the revival project when he was in fact the person who sent Swallows packing from the Premiership in May 2015.
He was in charge of a Black Leopards side that beat the Birds during the PSL promotion/relegation play-offs.
“Life is strange, hey. You can never know what tomorrow holds. We’ve gone full circle with this,” he said.
Swallows are back thanks to concerted efforts by Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi who wooed local businessman David Mogashoa to purchase the NFD status of Maccabi FC.
A bloated Swallows squad of relatively unknown players turned up at the grounds on Wednesday, with former Pirates midfielder Lebohang Mokoena, Thapelo Tshilo (former Jomo Cosmos defender) and Rooi Mahamutsa (ex-Pirates and Free State Stars defender) among the familiar faces.
Mokoena signed this week to join Tshilo as the most experienced campaigners in the side teeming with youngsters.
Marques said the warm-up match against the Chiefs’ reserve side was all part of Swallows’ scouting for younger players to conform with the NFD rule on Under-23 players.
He said they released Mahumutsa after a few days of training with the team to make space for three players from the Chiefs reserves, whom Swallows are taking on loan.
It is compulsory for first division clubs to include in every official match a minimum of five players who are younger than 23 and who are eligible to represent South Africa. A minimum of two must be on the field during a match.
“We are at the final stages of preseason training. We have to be ready by Saturday, with under-23 players in the team,” said Marques.
“Fortunately, we have been with Maccabi from the beginning. But, because of the uncertainty of the team – who is buying or not and with these things going on for three weeks – it became clear that it was Moroka Swallows only last week.
“Obviously, this gave clarity to the process as far as the signing of the players was concerned.
“But it’s been a juggling act,” admitted Marques, who returns to coaching after a hiatus of two and a half years.
Outlining his plans for the season, he said: “Hopefully, things go the way we have planned. Our ambition is to win the league or at least make the play-offs.
“We must also have a good run in the Nedbank Cup.
“I think it’s important to be there; you saw last season when TS Galaxy went all the way and won it.
“My aim is to show ambition and get the message across that we are a team to be reckoned with. But we’ve got to be realistic – we’ve only had this team together for two weeks,” the coach said.
Marques said he was also encouraged by the fact that the NFD had at last secured a lucrative sponsorship.
Starting from this season, the champions will pocket R3 million thanks to a five-year deal with construction group GladAfrica.
“It will give the players more responsibility because they are now part of the bigger picture in South African football.
“If you look at the PSL, the MultiChoice Diski Challenge and ABC Motsepe League – they all have sponsorship and are well organised, and the NFD was the missing link.
“We were the first division, but it looked as if we didn’t exist.”
Like Marques, erstwhile goalkeeper Aubrey Tlali Mathibe also finds himself in familiar territory.
The former Swallows goalie also came through with the transaction of Maccabi, alongside assistant coach Wandja Jacques Bosco.
“I am happy Swallows are back, but it’snot going to be easy because the expectations are high.
“The supporters are expecting more from us because Swallows are a big brand. We are just waiting for next week to start our new journey,” said Mathibe, who brings five years of experience as a player and coach to the table.
“We hope Maswaiswai [the team’s fans] will come in big numbers to rally behind us.”
Midfielder Tlakusani Mthethwa (26) was part of the Swallows side that got relegated from the NFD in 2016 and he is also excited about the team’s return.
“It’s a new era. The last time I was here, I was young. Swallows gave me the opportunity and I really appreciate being part of the set-up again,” Mthethwa said.
The opening weekend of the NFD will also mark debuts for JDR Stars (Gauteng) and Steenberg United (Western Cape), who got promoted from the ABC Motsepe League. They replaced relegated Ubuntu Cape Town and Witbanks Spurs.
What makes these Swallows different?
“This club is the revival of a Moroka Swallows that was formed in 1947,” explains Swallows chief executive Sipho Xulu.
“The supporters are the shareholders, which is a model similar to the one back in the olden days when the club was first registered.
“Much has been done to make sure that we are starting with a clean slate, and the name Moroka Swallows is cleared and the management is simplified,” says the 67-year-old Xulu, who started off as a fan in 1962 and went on to serve in various positions, notably in the supporters’ structures and in management.
At the time of going to print, the club was awaiting approval from the PSL on whether they will campaign as Swallows FC or Moroka Swallows, according to owner David Mogashoa.
What happens to the team’s position in the ABC Motsepe League?
“We have handed the status back to the club that rescued us – Orange Vaal Professionals. We can only be thankful for the people of the Vaal for embracing us,” says Xulu.
President: Panyaza Lesufi
Chairperson: David Mogashoa
Deputy chairperson: Solomon Mkhabela
Chief executive officer: Sipho Xulu
Chief operating officer: Power Makhura
Head coach: Zeca Marques
Assistant coach: Wandja Jacques Bosco
Goalkeeper coach: Aubrey Tlali Mathibe
Technical adviser: Fani Madida (who doubles as head of development and recruitment)