The Vodacom League Play-offs this year will attract huge interest, because of the nationalisation of the First Division next season.
The Inland and Coastal Streams system that has been used for the past four years is to be dumped, much to Jomo Cosmos coach Jomo Sono's displeasure, and because of that the value of a First Division franchise will skyrocket.
Additionally, there will be a world of difference between the second and third tiers, which is pushing the nine provincial finalists to make the most of the Finals, being played in Cape Town from June 6-12.
Every day we will introduce you to two teams fighting it out for NFD status – today Highlands Park and Baroka FC, two names that should be familiar to you.
INLAND – GAUTENG Highlands Park Highlands Park were a top team during the multi-racial NPSL era and were crowned champions of South Africa in 1980, but went on to sell their franchise two years later, giving birth to what is now Jomo Cosmos.
Since selling their status the club has stuck with its famous name in the amateur ranks, building up from winning the SAB League five years ago, before they became champions of the Vodacom League this year.
Despite being in the amateur ranks the club still upholds its proud tradition and still have that ‘family’ ethos. They have kept on fighting their way up with the same group of players that has been with the club for at least five years now.
The club has three owners, Brad Kaftel, Hadley Laserow and Larry Brookstone – who was formerly a director at Silver Stars.
Former Winners Park coach Zeca dos Santos is the head coach, assisted by Siza Maphala and Roger ‘Feutmba’ Tsola, and the players train and play at Modderfontein Sports Club.
Young Sifiso Mnguni, who has been at the club for the past seven years, is the captain and they have Michael Kaftel and Brad Brookstone (sons of two of the club bosses) as star players, along with Thabatsa Manyama, Andrew Golding and Wesley Mandingwane.
The club has maintained its traditional colours of black, white and red. Brad Kaftel – one of the directors – is on record saying it is harsh that they still have to go through the Play-offs after winning the difficult Gauteng stream.
INLAND – LIMPOPO Baroka FC The Limpopo champions are heading to the Vodacom Play-offs as the most popular team, following their dream run in the Nedbank Cup, where they reached the semi-finals by beating Moroka Swallows and Kaizer Chiefs.
Baroka, formed in 2007, are based in the village of Ga-Mphahlele near Lebowakgomo and are coached by 28-year-old Sello Chokoe, assisted by Malose Ledwaba.
Financing the club is businessman Khurishi Mphahlele, who is certain to lose the bulk of his team regardless of what happens in the Play-offs, following their achievements in the country’s premier knockout tournament.
On their way to winning the League up north they were ruthless at their home Ngwana Mohube Sports Ground, finishing the season with 78 points – a massive 15 ahead of second-placed Winners Park.
Baroka won 25 of the 30 games that they played, scoring a massive 68 goals and conceding just 17.
Bakgaga will continue to look up to goalkeeper Avhashoni Tshinuna, stylish midfielder Khunadi Nkoana, captain Phalane Lantshene, Katlego Mashego, the experienced Sam Ndlovu and Thobani Mncwango.