Brothers in alms: Why the lack of support for the second tier?

Sport

Brothers in alms: Why the lack of support for the second tier?

As long as the National First Division remains mediocre, so will the rate of progress in SA football

Journalist

If statistics are like a bikini, and do not reveal everything, Highlands Park’s numbers winning the National First Division (NFD) were the wave that came crashing down and washed the swimsuit right off.
If the NFD is a dry subject that puts readers to sleep at its mere mention, requiring football writers to produce spicy intros centred on bikinis to hold the attention, it is also an important one.
And Highlands’ statistics provide a troubling perspective.
The club deserve praise for how they destroyed opposition to be crowned NFD champions with four matches remaining with another demolition act – a 5-1 destruction of University of Pretoria.Highlands kept together the core of their side who were relegated from the PSL in 2016-17.
After a disastrous start under Thierry Mulonzo and Les Grobler, they assembled a good technical team of Owen Da Gama and Allan Freese. Former SA Under-23 fitness trainer Simone Conley was influential in their superior conditioning.
But it still says something, and not the right kind of thing, about the standard of the NFD that the side who finished last in the PSL the previous season have managed a 21-match unbeaten run in the second tier, scoring a staggering 54 goals to seven conceded.
It all comes down to budgets
Highlands’ last four results have been their 3-0 win against Mthatha Bucks on Saturday, preceded by the 5-1 thrashing of Tuks, a 4-0 trouncing of Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila before that, which followed a 7-1 drubbing of Mbombela United. They had a six-to-one goal ratio for the season.
For one coach who has spent some time in the NFD with clubs like Mthatha Bucks, Santos and Maritzburg United, this lopsided record is an indication that the second tier remains worryingly below standard.
Ian Palmer, who recently joined 11th-placed NFD club Super Eagles, has an idea of how much of a struggle it is for most clubs in the league to be competitive on a pathetically inadequate R500,000 monthly grant that does not even cover the player and technical staff wage bill, let alone travel and medical expenses.“It all comes down to the budgets. Highlands are a team with very good resources,” Palmer said.
“Especially if you compare theirs to a team like Super Eagles, who have come from the ABC Motsepe League. There are not many resources, they don’t have sponsors, so they can’t afford the quality.
“It’s the same at your Tshakhumas, your Mthatha Buckses – most of the teams in the NFD. It’s only your Black Leopards, Royal Eagles, Jomo Cosmos and Highlands who have decent budgets.
“That, for me, is what holds back the development of this league. And for me that’s basically down to the grant.
“It makes it very difficult for these teams to operate, and it makes it very difficult for the chairmen. I feel sorry for them for the amount they have to contribute personally.”
Shamefully not televised
PSL teams are paid a monthly R2-million grant, four times what NFD clubs receive. Of course they need more because putting together a competitive squad in the top-flight costs so much more.
But PSL teams also operate in a televised league, at a much higher level of exposure, making obtaining big sponsorships a far more realistic prospect.
NFD clubs not only have a paltry grant to contend with, but their league remains shamefully not televised.Yet somehow the PSL has managed to negotiate a reserve league, the Multichoice Diski Challenge (MDC), that is televised – because its sponsor is also a broadcaster, but still. This season a cup competition for the MDC was launched at a cost, and channelling of sponsorship funds, of what must be millions.
The PSL also has a Q-Innovation competition, established on the dubious grounds it will add interest to the top flight, that awards R1.5-million to the quarterly top-flight league leaders.
The MDC is an interesting case in point. For years various Bafana Bafana coaches and the media clamoured for a much-needed reserve league, and their argument was treated as a nuisance by the PSL top brass. Yet since its establishment the MDC’s value has proved immense.
Dragging of feet and apparent disinterest
PSL clubs have a place where players coming back from injury can be rehabilitated. Where young players would previously stagnate for too long on PSL clubs’ benches, they have an avenue to impress and force their way into the reckoning now through the reserve league.
The dragging of feet and apparent lack of interest in establishing a strong, televised NFD in which clubs can financially sustain themselves and put together competitive squads is the next area of neglect seriously in need of addressing.
Because, while it’s not the sexiest of subjects – not sexy like a bikini – the NFD should be. For, as long as it remains mediocre, so will the rate of progress in SA football.

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