Life in the bubble with Jules – week 5
The first thing I did after leaving the bubble was buy a burger! I earned it after the drama of the final day of the league season alone. That’s why I believe football is the greatest soap opera ever because if we had script writers, they would be unlocking Oscar level with the storyline of the last day of the Absa Premiership.
There was a last week of school feel in the hotel leading up to games 29 and 30 in the league especially with us as Richards Bay had left and Ajax moved hotels.
For the Wits management and players there was an increased sadness the closer we got to the last day as it marked the end of their existence as a club.
Baroka were fighting for their survival and coach Dylan Kerr could be spotted walking around all morning with his tactics printed on A4 sheets as they got ready for Kaizer Chiefs.
Some of my colleagues stayed behind for the Nedbank Cup final but most of our team had packed up before heading to Dobsonville one last time.
When we arrived, I saw the stage and red carpet ready to either be displayed or dumped.
With the top two separated by goal difference only, no one knew whether the trophy would end up at Bidvest Stadium or Dobsonville. The league prepared by having two stages, two sets of medals and two confetti canons. But there was apparently only one new Absa Prem trophy so that was waiting at a neutral venue, reportedly Orlando Stadium, with a police escort. At halftime with both Chiefs and Sundowns leading 1-0, I heard whispers that the trophy had been sent to Bidvest Stadium.
At Dobsonville both Sundowns and Black Leopards were relaxed before kick-off, both positive and optimistic. Leopards had even packed their bags and brought it on the bus determined they were heading straight to Thohoyondou – not the playoffs - after the final whistle. And for the first time in the bubble we had music at the stadium! No PA system was in use in the BSE but on the last day the league arranged music for Dobsonville so when coach Pitso Mosimane walked out for his pitch inspection he was happily singing along to Kabo Yellow. Thato Moeng tells me they had a dj at Bidvest Stadium too.
The second the game started, though, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
That’s how we knew Chiefs had scored, because of the cars hooting outside. And with Sundowns having a penalty saved and then hitting the post twice it seemed like it was not going to be their day. But before the break they broke the deadlock through Lebogang Maboe. And knowing they might have to score four they were relentless in the second half.
In the end Maboe’s hat-trick secured a 3-0 win. And shortly after his third goal the subs bench erupted with shouts of “champions”. The technical team started celebrating and I swear for a moment play completely stopped on the field as the players heard Baroka had held Chiefs to a draw. I admit my heart started beating furiously too as this was to be my first league trophy lift. What a way to cap it all off!
In a bizarre season and unprecedented times there was an air of normality on the final day with Bafana Ba Style retaining the trophy for the third year in a row. There were wild celebrations at the final whistle, post-match interviews and the R15 million cheque handover. Then the players headed up the red carpet, taking their own medals before heading to the stage. Sirino and Ali Meza soaked up the confetti, Tiyani Mabunda was swimming on the grass (swimming in the victory he later revealed), pictures were taken, the trophy was passed around for more pictures before finally being carried into the dressing room by Hlompo Kekana post our interview. The Downs bus was mauled by fans upon exiting the stadium and that was that - the end of a league season that took a year and a month to complete.
Over 30 days in the bubble, 9 hotels, 16 match venues, 32 training grounds 106 matches across 2 divisions, a first Glad Africa Championship winner and for the last time an Absa Premiership winner. There is one more game for Sundowns and Bloemfontein Celtic – the Nedbank Cup this weekend and the playoffs will continue. But for most of us, the bubble has burst.