FREE STATE STARS will commence the new 2016-’17 Premier Soccer League (PSL) season by playing the first game away. The Bethlehem-based side’s opening fixture is against Chippa United on Wednesday, 24 August, at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. The fixture will be followed by an intriguing derby against fellow provincial rivals Bloemfontein Celtic on 14 September.The recently-ended 2015-’16 PSL season was frustrating for Ea Lla Koto and the team will aim to turn things around. The team failed to secure a top-eight spot, as they finished in position 12 with 35 points. Stars’ highlight this previous season was reaching the semi-final of the Nedbank Cup, but they gave away a golden opportunity to be in the final when they lost 2-4 to Orlando Pirates.Stars’ biggest disappointment was their failure to retain a financial title sponsor in Bonitas. The medical aid fund decided against the renewal of their agreement with the club, leaving them with a huge burden to pay for all expenses, including paying players and administration staff. The sponsorship deal had been over five years and Stars had the first-ever longest financial sponsor since the club regained PSL status in the 2007-’08 season. The agreement expired in the middle of the 2015-’16 season. The dire financial situation even forced Stars’ owner, Mike Mokoena, to attempt to sell the team’s franchise, with the deal going sour after the bidding consortium had failed to pay money to conclude the deal. Mokoena stated in a media statement that following the expiry of the agreement they had to inject R12 million to keep the club afloat for the remainder of the season. The team’s management has sold some highly-rated players in the hope of bankrolling the club in the new season of 2016-’17. Those sold include Justice Chabalala, Sello Japhta and Ayanda Nkosi.Because of dire financial constraints in 2002, Mokoena agreed with the PSL to a buy-out of the team licences to an amount believed to be R8 million. Stars fixture: FS Stars v Golden Arrows: Goble Park Stadium (21 September). SuperSport United v FS Stars: Lucas Moripe Stadium (24 September). FS Stars v Kaizer Chiefs: Goble Park Stadium (28 September). FS Stars v Maritzburg United: Goble Park Stadium (15 October). FS Stars v Ajax Cape Town: Goble Park Stadium (2 November). Orlando Pirates v FS Stars: Orlando Stadium (19 November). Polokwane City v FS Stars: Old Peter Mokaba Stadium (23 November).