United’s home away from home

2012-05-05 00:00

IS Pietermaritzburg set to lose its shine as the city of choice for Maritzburg United?

Speculation is rife that the PSL side may ditch the Harry Gwala Stadium as its home ground in favour of Port Elizabeth and the flashy Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium — if not permanently, at least in favour of more “home” matches there than the three they played this season.

It has been no secret that the NMB metro has been trying to woo a Premier Soccer League club to be an anchor tenant, in addition to rugby’s EP Kings who are already firmly ensconced.

Maritzburg United was paid R750 000 by the NMB metro for each of the three “home” matches played in the Windy City this year.

Team manager Quintin Jetoo said yesterday: “I know that there is the possibility that we will be playing games there again next season, but that is all that I am aware of. I haven’t heard anything regarding a permanent move.”

In his reaction, PSL spokesperson Altaaf Kazi said: “The deadline for clubs to submit their preferred venues for next season is May 18, so we will know then where Maritzburg United stand. Port Elizabeth is a World Cup venue, so I would imagine that it would be fine if Maritzburg wanted to move their home games there.”

NMB officials were reluctant to confirm that a contract had been signed, although there were indications yesterday that negotiations were at an advanced stage.

A memorandum to municipal official Zolile Siswana from Pierre Voges, the chief operating officer of the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), contained a few nuggets about a PSL soccer franchise having to be secured for the stadium.

Voges’s concerns related mostly to how delays in extending the operator contract for the stadium would affect the EP Kings rugby team’s place in the Super 15.

But he added: “We are presently negotiating with the PSL side, Maritzburg United to move the PSL franchise completely to the stadium. Having a stadium operator contract in place is a key condition though. We may, therefore, lose the PSL franchise.”

Reached for comment yesterday, Voges declined to elaborate.

A Msunduzi Municipality insider said he was aware that United had been planning to ditch the city for Port Elizabeth because the team would be paid by that metro to play there.

“They have been paying R14 000 per game here, but they have decided to ditch their loyal home fans for the money that have been promised by the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro,” the source said.

Msunduzi municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said he was worried that all United’s big games, such as against Kaizer Chiefs or Sundowns, were being played in PE.

“Yet we are spending in access of R100 000 per month on maintaining the Harry Gwala Stadium and I have already sent one of my deputy municipal managers to go and talk to the management about this because it is not conducive for business when the city is only expected to see them play when they playing smaller sides,” he said.

The Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor committee member for sport, Babalwa Lobishe, said the municipality had a contract with the stadium management to lobby for a PSL team that would make the stadium its home ground.

“Therefore, I cannot confirm or deny that Maritzburg United is that team because they have not told us which team has been lobbied to use the stadium permanently for this coming season,” she said.

In his reaction, Siswana said the city was not aware of any intention to “buy” the team.

When pointed out that it was not a matter of buying the team, but United finding a permanent home there, he said: “We have many options which we can use to get a PSL team to use the stadium and the first one would be buying a PSL team, which will be too costly for the city.”

The second option would be to contract a team to use the stadium for their home games “which is what Maritzburg United have been doing”, said Siswana.

Siswana said he was not aware of any move by Maritzburg United to relocate permanently to PE.

The metro would be happy if Maritzburg United continued as it did this season to play some of their home games in the city.

In his reaction, NMB acting municipal manager Themba Hani declined to comment on “rumours”.

Democratic Alliance caucus leader in the metro, Leon de Villiers, said he had raised the issue on April 23 at a meeting of the council’s public accounts committee after he was told a deal would be signed by April 27.

This after sources had told him that a R10 million allocation in the metro’s adjustment’s budget had been set aside to secure a PSL side as a permanent team at the stadium. Although the entry referred to EP Kings, he was advised it was in fact for Maritzburg United.

However, during that meeting Hani had vehemently denied any knowledge of an agreement, De Villiers said. “I do believe something is happening here and that negotiations are close to being clinched.”

De Villiers said that the cash-strapped metro could not afford to bankroll a soccer team in this way.

NMB mayor Zanoxolo Wayile was apparently in Durban yesterday, but could not be reached for comment.

A rugby official in PE said yesterday that the EP Kings’ 2013 fixtures had already been agreed to, while the stadium would also host the IRB rugby Sevens and various soccer matches, which meant the scheduling of United’s games at the stadium might be a challenge.

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