It was touch-and-go for a while but Madibaz Football Club have made history by becoming the first team from Nelson Mandela University’s George campus to play in the Safa Eden Regional Men’s League.
After recording an incredible 13 victories from 15 matches in the George Local Football Association league, they again came up trumps at the weekend to win promotion to the region’s top-tier competition.
While the playoffs in Mossel Bay gave the students a few nervous moments, the form they had shown throughout the season shone through when it mattered most.
Their final game against Young Pirates was effectively a do-or-die affair. Had their opposition held them to a draw, Madibaz would have missed out on playing regional football next month.
Fortunately, after having gone a goal down, they came back with three of their own to secure a 3-1 victory.
Since he had retained many of the players from the team who ended third in the George league in 2022, coach Ntandazo Minquma knew that his side had the potential to go all the way.
He also held trials for first-year students to add a fresh dimension to the squad.
“Our advantage has been our depth. Opposition sides usually have a starting lineup but maybe only two or three players who can change the game off the bench.
“We have more than that,” he said.
Minquma’s previous experience coaching Young Blues in the Safa regional league has also been a significant factor in Madibaz’s fortunes.
The practical lessons he has been able to impart have been easy for the players to understand, and the impact has been seen both on and off the pitch.
Nowhere was this more apparent than during the playoffs at the weekend.
After sweeping aside FC Bongulethu and FC Kwano and drawing with FC Rebels in their opening games, they came unstuck against Tembu Royals in a match they were largely expected to win.
This set up the winner-takes-all showdown against Young Pirates.
“The guys are not used to losing so I needed to find a way to keep them up. I had to try to make them forget about the loss and focus on the positives,” Minquma explained.
“I was making jokes, making general conversation, it was fun for me. But I also told them that they must show me responsibility.”
Even when they went a goal down, the mentor encouraged his charges to relax and play their own game.
Many in the region expected Madibaz to make the playoffs and win the tournament so there were a few raised eyebrows when they lost one game.
That was when Minquma reminded his players that, in football, no one won all the time and that it was how they bounced back that counted.
He quickly assessed the situation against Young Pirates, recognising that Madibaz’s depth would be the deciding factor. And so it proved to be.
In all, his side scored 14 goals in five playoff matches, confirming their reputation as a side who strikes fear into opposition defences.
In the coach’s opinion, his team would not be overwhelmed by playing in the regional league.
They were quite familiar with the opposition squads, having played them in various knockout tournaments, and he believed the Madibaz would soon be challenging for the top positions.
“There is a lot of travelling, so that’s something we will have to get used to.
“The officials are also a lot stricter, so we will need to be more disciplined. You know students mos,” he quipped.