All eyes on the MTN8

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CHAMPIONS Ajax Cape Town celebrate winning the 2015 MTN8 final against Kaizer Chiefs at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last year. The Urban Warriors will not take part in this year’s edition because they missed the cut. Picture: Chris Ricco
CHAMPIONS Ajax Cape Town celebrate winning the 2015 MTN8 final against Kaizer Chiefs at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last year. The Urban Warriors will not take part in this year’s edition because they missed the cut. Picture: Chris Ricco

The MTN8 kicks off on August 26. It is one of the oldest competitions in the professional era of South African football.

The competition features clubs finishing in the Absa Premiership top eight bracket. It is in its 44th year, having started in 1972.

The MTN8 has existed under different names depending on the sponsors, and Orlando Pirates were the first winners under the old National Professional Soccer League, which was established in 1971.

The competition was then known as the BP Top 8, a name by which it went until 2003, when the name changed due to the new sponsors and became the SAA Super Eight.

Cellular network provider MTN stepped in in 2008, giving the tournament its current name, MTN8 and adding more innovations along the way.

Kaizer Chiefs, who lost 1-0 to reigning champions Ajax Cape Town last season, have won the most titles, 15 in all.

They are followed by continental giants Pirates, who have bagged the title nine times.

Ezikamagebhula bagged back-to-back trophies in 1972 and 1973, and repeated the feat in 2010 and 2011 (see box).

Besides the fact that the MTN8 is the second richest competition after the Absa Premiership – with a first prize of R8 million for the winners and the league offering R10 million – innovations over the years have made it a very exciting event in the local football calendar.

One of these was the new prize structure that MTN introduced when it came on board in 2008.

It offered a winner-takes-all R8 million prize for the champions, while the other seven participants had to do with an equal amount of R800 000 each from a pot of R13.6 million.

While there has been a lot of grumbling about the R800 000, I still have to hear the champions complain after pocketing a whooping R8 million.

Another attraction for fans was introduced in 2014.

Living up to the Wafa Wafa slogan of the competition, the league sponsors launched the Last Fan Standing component, which gave the winner R1 million, plus a trip to watch Spanish La Liga giants Barcelona against their Italian counterparts Juventus in the Uefa Champions League final in Berlin.

So, given the range of winners since the dawn of the MTN8 in 2008, which includes unlikely candidates such as Golden Arrows (2009), Platinum Stars (2013) and last year’s victors the Urban Warriors, anyone from newcomers Cape Town City, Chippa United, Platinum Stars, Bidvest Wits as well as giants Chiefs, Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United can expect to lift the trophy when the final is played on October 1.

However, defending champions Ajax are missing from the lot, as they only finished 10th last season, thus missing the cut.

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