The time to feel sorry for the Freestate Cheetahs has to come to an end, they have no-one but themselves to blame for their ongoing problems.
It was 1997. We were at our home in Cape Town and one of my best friends from schooldays, a Cheetah supporter to the bone, sat down to watch what would turn out to be an epic Currie Cup final between WP and the Cheetahs at Newlands.
I will never forget his reaction when the Cheetahs seemingly broke the line to send Jan-Harm van Wyk (if memory serves) over in the corner to give the Cheetahs their first Currie Cup title since 1976. The reaction thereafter when they were called back for the forward pass, was equally emotional.
Fast forward to 2005. By this stage I left Cape Town and found myself living in Namibia. The only means for me to follow that final played at Loftus against the mighty Blue Bulls was via streaming audio on my PC. Straight after the final whistle and an historic win for the boys from Bloem in almost 30 years since they last drank from the Golden Cup, I phoned the same friend, who by this stage was already tanked as you could not believe but almost in tears.
Fact is, on that day in 2005 I was as ecstatic as I was in 1997 when WP won the Cup, afterall, they Cheetahs were my ‘second’ team (aren’t they everyone’s?).
The Cheetahs went on to share the trophy in 2006, and win it again in 2007 and making another final in 2009 which they lost to the Blue Bulls after upsetting the much fancied Sharks in their own backyard in the semi-final.
Last year they lost out to the Sharks in the semi-finals but since that historic day in 2005, the team featured in all the semi-finals, including 4 finals since 2005.
Enter 2011, and we have to read how the Cheetahs are staring down a barrel because they seemingly cannot find a title sponsor for the team since Vodacom ditched them (and WP) last year.
Excuse me? Stop die donnerse horlosie asseblief!
How can it be that one of the more successful teams domestically in the last 6 or so years cannot find a title sponsor just over one month out from the start of the Super 15?
Let’s not forget the fact that they also sit with the most successful breeding grounds in South African rugby in the modern era in Grey Bloemfontein who has been the top rugby school in South Africa for too many years to even bother to count delivering Springbok after Springbok.
Add to this the fact that some of South Africa’s most famous rugby icons like Os du Randt, Andre Venter, Juan Smith etc. call this union their home, and that they discovered/mentored exciting black and coloured rugby players like Kabamba Floors, Ashley Johnson, Lionel Mapoe and Bjorn Basson and you cannot help asking yourself how the Freestate Cheetahs failed to improve, or even establish their commercial value as a rugby union (read business) for which sponsors or potential investment partners should be falling over each other to sign the dotted line.
Yet we have to hear year in and year out how the union administrators sing the same old tune of how all the ‘bigger’ unions lure their players away with big money and how they always struggle for depth because of the fact and how they always have to start over every year, blah, blah, blah…
I will also not buy the line where there are no big local businesses that cannot buy into the union. Not in this day and age of technology where all traditional geographical boundaries in business are removed.
How is it that a hopeless team like WP and the Stormers, who have last seen a Cup at the turn of the century, manage to pack their stadium year in and year out and sign massive 3-year sponsorships?
How is it that an even more hopeless team in the Lions with regards to success on the field and support at the stadium managed to secure the financial assistance of a millionaire businessman and his partner?
The Freestate Cheetahs administration quite simply missed a golden opportunity to increase the union’s commercial value and appeal over the last couple of years in a market where they are, and definitely were one of the most popular teams or at least in the top 2 of 90% of rugby supporters in South Africa.
So forgive me if I have no sympathy for a union who given all of the above is struggling to find a title sponsor because for my money (which they cannot have) they deserve exactly what they are getting.
I do however feel for my friend, who I am planning to see again in about a month’s time. I will even buy him a supporters jersey as a token of my support to him, I heard they are going quite cheaply currently…