rand hosts cup thriller

Linda Moreotsene

Linda Moreotsene

Cast your mind back to the summer of 1978.

South African football was taking baby steps towards a nonracial game, having merged the whites-only National Football League and the black National Professional Soccer League.

Rand Stadium was the venue for the first ever cup final between teams from the previously race classified leagues.

When Kaizer Chiefs and Wits University trotted onto the pitch on that afternoon, it was for more than the mere glory of being called the first Mainstay Cup champions. This honour would fall to The Students.

Fast forward 31 years. It is a changed world, and when the players from University of Pretoria, alias AmaTuks, and Moroka Swallows step onto the Rand Stadium pitch on Saturday, the only thing on the 22 players' minds will be to hoist the Nedbank Cup high.

To today's youngsters such as AmaTuks defender Warren Bishop and attacker Thabo Moleko, or Swallows' Ryan Botha the notion that it was once against the law to play football with people of the "wrong" colour would seem bizarre.

What will not change at the Rand Stadium on Saturday, though, is that again the final will feature a Soweto side against a student outfit.

Les Grobler, a Swallows veteran who played many matches at this stadium, recalls the great atmosphere brought about by the compactness of the venue.

"It is a nice little venue and the pitch was first class - not as heavy as the ones you get to play on today. It used to be one of the quickest surfaces - I hope they have retained the good things about it," said Grobler.

But it is not the stadium of yore.

It has undergone a R76million facelift courtesy of the City of Joburg.

This is to help prepare it for another exciting chapter in its history - as a World Cup training ground.