Black Leopards’ relegation was a double blow for club owner David Thidiela.
The 70-year-old lost his wife in January and, as a result, could not attend his club’s matches as he was observing the customary mourning period.
He had to watch from a distance even when Leopards’ three-season stint in the elite league was cut short on Wednesday after a 3-1 defeat to Cape Town City.
Thidiela believes that had he taken an active role, perhaps the club would not have been relegated from the DStv Premiership.
“I’m not saying I could have definitely saved the team, but maybe my presence would have inspired the boys. I’m hurt that I could not play an active role, but I have to respect our culture as I could not be seen out there while still in mourning,” said a dejected Thidiela this week.
He vowed to try again next season.
“I’m not in a good space at the moment as it has not sunk in yet, but I have accepted our fate. At least I will be hands-on when the new season kicks off and will channel everything into the club to make sure that we bounce back.
“It won’t be easy because it is tough down there, but I will do my best.”
Thidiela said it was too early to talk about the players’ future.
“We will sit down with them and plot the future together. I can’t make decisions on their behalf. Obviously, there are lots of factors that we will consider, as some of them might not want to go down with us.”
Leopards gained promotion to the premiership via the play-offs in 2018, and they survived the axe by the skin of their teeth after finishing 15th last season. They rescued their top-flight status in the promotion/relegation play-offs.
It seems they didn’t learn from the previous campaign, as they again found themselves in the relegation zone this season, but this time they paid the ultimate price.
Their undoing was the chopping and changing of coaches, which negatively affected their performance. Leopards had five coaches this season alone – Patrick Aussems, Dylan Kerr, Lehlohonolo Seema, Kosta Papic and Morgan Shivambu.
With their latest demotion, they return to the second-tier structure, where they had spent five years before they got promoted in 2018.
Before then, they perennially reached the promotion play-offs but fell at the last hurdle. And before that, they’d spent nine seasons in the PSL before their relegation as the last-placed team in 2013.