On Sunday, after 23 years of waiting, a long-awaited dream was realised when the Aloevale team, Seven Stars FC, became the soccer champions of the Eastern Cape.
“I want to thank the man above for helping us get this promotion. After 23 years we have reached promotion into the ABC Motsepe league,” said the overwhelmed chairman of Seven Stars, Jan Draghoender.
He was not alone as a charge of teary-eyed boys dropped to their knees when the final whistle of a long, two-day regional playoff weekend finally blew.
Although Seven Stars managed to come home undefeated, behind the stats is a story of perseverance, courage in the face of insurmountable odds and a gift to the spirit of football.
Nelson Mandela Bay was the setting where eight regional teams converged for this year’s playoffs. After 24 matches divided into two groups, the Alfred Nzo team Thohoyandou FC and Seven Stars are the two sides in next season’s Motsepe league.
In their first group B match, Stars faced hosts Motherwell Academy on Saturday. Far from their comfort zone, they had to battle not only their opponents, but the elements with the windy city living up to its name. They defended resolutely and punished a defensive mistake from Motherwell, taking a 1-0 lead at halftime. With the southern wind to their advantage in the second, they showed why they had dominated Chris Hani, netting four goals. Stars striker Sheydon Rowland scored a hat trick.
The second match was tougher. They faced the Amathole side, Musketeers FC. In a game of nerves, the teams went into halftime level on 1-1. Pressure to deliver almost overwhelmed them, with both missing penalties in the second half. With sheer grit and a desire to win, a 90th minute goal by Rowland got Seven Stars over the line.
The last game on Sunday was against Buffalo City team, Relatives FC. The teams, first and second on the table, Stars led with six points, Relatives were second on three points. While the outcome almost seemed a foregone conclusion as Stars had an almost unassailable goal difference of six. In the end, it became a battle for the soul of football.
Both teams came out fighting, Rowland scoring the first within a minute. Things quickly turned ugly as the game became physical and the Relatives bench challenged almost every decision by the match officials. Rowland managed to keep Stars in the game, netting a second and the teams went level to half time on 2-2.
Tensions almost boiled over in the second half. Relatives scored first. While Stars battled to keep their goal difference advantage, a result from the Musketeers-Motherwell match played concurrently, threatened to change the whole group. A shocking result of 7-0 to Motherwell, even before full time, suggested Musketeers were no longer interested in competing. A win for Motherwell of 11 goals would send the third-placed team to the top, completely changing the weekend’s results.
Stars had to draw at the very least to be safe. In the end an 80th minute goal by Javian Rooi rescued football, equalising the game at 3-3 at full time and rendering the 12-0 victory by Motherwell irrelevant.
Rowland was the top scorer with nine goals. Stars now join Amavarara FC in the ABC Motsepe League.