The fall and fall of Swallows

2015-03-29 15:00

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Just three seasons ago, Moroka Swallows’ hard-core fans were celebrating the fact that the Birds were a football powerhouse once again.

From being the 2011/12 Absa Premiership runners-up and 2012 MTN8 champions, Swallows’ rapid fall sees them back in the territory of hlala kwabafileyo (stay with the dead).

The Birds rose to the top when Gordon Igesund took charge as coach of the team.

It was under the multiple league-winning coach’s two-year spell that Swallows came close to their first league championship in 47 years.

Incidentally, the Soweto outfit last won the league in 1965 (when it was known as the SA Soccer League).

Swallows lost the 2012 championship by two points (to Orlando Pirates) – the closest they’ve been to the title since 1993.

In that year, they were edged out by Mamelodi Sundowns by three points under the first-division structure of the then National Soccer League.

So what has led to the club’s latest decline?

City Press spoke to a number of officials and players – past and present – who are privy to the goings-on at the club.

Most of the accusing fingers are pointed at the “lack of leadership and football vision” from the club’s chief executive, Leon Prins.

They have, however, asked for anonymity due to their close relationship with the club.

“Swallows has stagnated,” said a former official. “The club is still living in the 1980s. Swallows is a big name, but it’s small if you look at what other clubs are doing. A lack of leadership, football vision and interference is stunting progress.”

Some said the Igesund factor and Zeca Marques’ success at the 2012 MTN8 Cup was a project that miraculously succeeded amid signs of “a disaster waiting to happen”.

“Keeping the same players for too long is a recipe for disaster. We are talking about a group of ageing players.

“The likes of Greg Etafia (32), Lefa Tsutsulupa (35) and Siyabonga Nomvethe (37) have given their all, but for how long can they carry the team?

“It’s just that these guys are true professionals. It is like Swallows is racing in the Durban July with a donkey,” said the source.

Speculation about an imminent takeover has been swirling above Swallows’ heads for many years.

The latest name that has been thrown in the hat is that of Italian-South African property developer Mathew Giuricich.

The club released his son Giulio – a defender – last season.

News that Giuricich senior was bidding to buy the club broke in April last year, but nothing has materialised.

Swallows have recently been using the Italian Sporting Club in Bedfordview as their training grounds after being based in Germiston for many years.

“He [Giuricich] helped us bring in the Hyundai sponsorship,” said Prins.

The Swallows boss admitted that the death of majority shareholder Dieter Bock, who choked on a steak in May 2010, had negatively affected the club’s finances.

They also lost their Volkswagen sponsorship in 2013.

Some remain of the view that “until there is a major shake-up at Swallows, the club will never return to its former glory”.

But Prins said: “This club was ruined in the 1990s. We saved Swallows when we came in 15 years ago.”

Swallows was previously owned by the late David “Pine” Chabeli, who was bought out by Bock through FB Investments with Prins.

Before Bock and Prins’ involvement, renowned music producer Sello “Chicco” Twala and Mike “Sporo” Mangena held interests in the club.

But the pair’s brief spell ended in a court battle after Twala applied to have the club liquidated in 1998.

The infighting had an adverse effect on the team, as the club diced with relegation before they took off again to become top-eight contenders in the early 2000s.

The club’s drama is set to continue as Swallows are occupying a play-off spot at 15th position on the Absa Premiership table.

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