14 April 2021 – The much-anticipated 2021 Sasol League kicked off this past weekend with several procinces taking to the field after an absence of just over a year.
Eastern Cape, North West, Gauteng, Northern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga were the first to taste the action when they resumed play since the announcement of the Covid-19 pandemic in March last year, which brought life around the world to a standstill.
Free State and KwaZulu Natal are getting ready to kickoff this coming weekend, while the last province to return to action will be the Western Province (30 April 2021).
SAFA Media spoke to Japhta Manuku, Team Mananger of Mpumalanga’s Sasol Juventus after their first ever match in the league. The team was promoted from the LFA in 2019 but had to endure a one-year wait as Covid-19 took over and stopped all activities.
They won their opening match of the season 3-0 against Slindile FC from Ermelo.
How does it feel like to be back?
It is just unbelievable, we have been waiting for this moment for so long – and at some point it looked like it was never going to arrive. But we had to be patient, and here we are.
Remember for us it is a different case altogether – we had just been promoted into the Sasol League and were really looking forward to some action in the big league. Unfortunately with the hard lockdown in March last year everything had to stop – meaning the girls had to sit at home doing nothing. It was very difficult just waiting for the day things got back to normal.
How did you prepare for the season?
We started training in September last year to try and get ready for the new season and to keep the girls busy, but we had to stop in December when the players, most of them students, had to go away for the holidays. We were only able to do something serious from February when SAFA gave us the go-ahead to resume action. We played a few friendlies – we were so hungry for action that we even travelled to Johannesburg last month to face the Wits team that plays in the Varsity League. We lost that match heavily but it was a worthy exercise because we had two objectives: to prepare the team for the Sasol League and also to expose and market our players. So it was good preparations because we learnt a lot.
We also played against District teams where we won big, sometimes 20-0 or 12-0 – not the desired results because there was not much to learn but these games helped the girls get some match fitness.
We must have played five preparation fixtures in total, and these assisted as we got our campaign in the league off to a good start, winning 3-0 against Slindile FC.
SAFA gives the go-ahead to resume, but Covid-19 is still here. How did that affect you?
Unfortunately Covid-19 is with us, and will be for some time to come – it remains a big challenge, not just for the clubs, or us but also for the whole community.
Prior to the league kicking off, we attended a Covid-19 workshop online, hosted by the SAFA Chief Medical Officer Dr Thulani Ngwenya – that is where we were prepared thoroughly as to how plan, execute and react to situations regarding Covid-19.
We were ready in our first match but it is still a challenge because some people think Covid-19 is over. We held meetings with our players to behave safe when coming to the club, but more so when they are at home because that is where they spend most of their time.
For amateur clubs like us the whole process is very expensive but we have to do the best we can to keep safe. We haven’t had any cases in our clubs, but I must admit that this Covid-19 exercise has increased the costs of running clubs.
Coming back to the match, how were the girls, knowing they were going to play after such a long time?
Like I said, we have been waiting for a year to play in the Sasol League – this is a big thing for all of us, so we were all very excited, especially the girls because their dream was coming true.
When everything was stopped in March 2020, many of the girls were left frustrated, as we all did not now what the future held.
Fast forward to 2021 and the mood in the team is just positive and sky-high.
I saw them on the Friday (day before our match) and they couldn’t wait for kickoff the next day, but the excitement nearly turned to sadness when we it was said that our cards were not ready.
In the end everything was sorted and we were able to play.
You won the game 3-0, but how was it?
I am not going to lie to you, it was not an easy game at all. The opposition was more experienced as they have been playing in this league for a while. Our players were anxious but grew in confidence as the game went on.
The result of that was us scoring a goal in the first half, which left not only our opponents, but also us, very surprised – we didn’t expect that.
Like I said, the reason for that was that our opposition was more experienced and we told ourselves that a draw will be a great achievement.
First match out of the way, what is your assessment?
Our aim is not to put unnecessary pressure on the girls, like telling them to win the league – no ways!
Our goal is to maintain our status in the league, because we are a new team in this division. It would be unfair of us to expect being number in the first season.
Also, we have three or four girls that have played in the Sasol League before and the rest only know the level of District football – so we need to get all the experience we can get, and I must say: so far, so good.
What are your expectations for this season?
To be honest, it is still early days but we are excited about the team we have.
So we will take it one game at a time because football can humble you. We are second in our stream, out of eight teams.
The plan this season is to swim with those at our level and maintain our Sasol League status – but next season we will definitely have a go at the big sharks and compete for honours.
For now the most important and exciting thing is that we are just happy to be back – nothing beats that feeling of playing the game we love.
We have been waiting for this moment for so long. And I would like to take this opportunity to convey our greatest gratitude to the mother body, SAFA, for allowing us to back to the game we love so much. We also want to thank Sasol for providing us with the platform for the girls to showcase their talent – without them, I don’t know where we would be.
SASOL LEAGUE UPDATE:
Already kicked off (Saturday, 10 April 2021):
• Eastern Cape
• North West
• Northern Cape
(Saturday, 11 April 2021):
Still to play (17 April 2021)
• Free State
• KwaZulu Natal
(Saturday, 30 April 2021)
• Western Cape
For further information please contact:
SAFA: Head of Communications
Mobile: +27 71 332 9886
On behalf of Sasol:
Mobile: +27 82 7444 919