Organisers of the annual Bayhill under-19 Premier Cup can be forgiven for offering a collective sigh of relief as 2022 champions Cape Town Spurs lined up to face Grassy Park United in the final of the 2023 edition, at Athlone Stadium, on Monday April 10. By all accounts, the 34th edition was special in many ways, considering it was staged in a post Covid-19 era following severe restrictions brought about by the pandemic of 2020, an extended period of drought prior to that and lack of a title sponsor over the past few years. The decision to move the finals to Athlone Stadium drew criticism from some, while others considered it the best move ever.
Despite a slow start to sales, tickets were selling like hotcakes on the day of the final and rumours of bootleg ones on sale outside the venue, tells a different story. In the tradition of big finals, this was a huge one.
Tournament adjudicator and former professional, Farouk Abrahams, gave the move the thumbs up. “It was a magnificent occasion, the atmosphere was great with three times as many spectators that could get into Erica Park and the youngsters must have been thrilled to play at the home of Cape football,” he said. “The only buses were those from the visiting teams. It was an experiment that worked and I don’t think anyone left disappointed.”
Whatever differences of opinion there may have been or unseen challenges the organisers faced, all of that were put aside, as soccer took centre stage with players as the main actors and administrators, service providers and of course, the record-breaking crowd as the main supporting cast.
What’s even more special is the fact that for the first time Cape sides claimed the top spot across all sectional finals, from plate section to mid-section and of course the championship finals, which was an all-Cape affair.
Monday’s finals follow six days of gruelling football action in what can be described as the continent’s foremost youth soccer tournament, a place where legends are born, as the tournament’s founders set out to prove.
Planning, preparation and a solid belief in themselves, that they have what it takes, saw Grassy Park lift the trophy as newly-crowned Premier Cup champions.
Of course, for Spurs, coming in as champions comes with all the pressure expected and going up against a side hungry for the title was always going to be difficult.
Grassy Park coach Curtley Daniels, who himself was a player at the club six years ago, returned as a coach in early November for the ABC Motsepe League team.
Daniels knew the side would have their work cut out, saying the club had dropped out in group stages during the past two Bayhill editions.
“I was at the Bayhill tournament as a coach last year with Hellenic. It’s my first time with Grassy Park at the Bayhill Premier Cup,” he said.
Two goals in the first half, one each by Jody Claasen and Ryan Hamdulay, put Grassy Park in a commanding position early on. Nawaaz Salie got one back for Spurs in the second half.
“The preparation has been fantastic,” said Daniels. “It really helped that we had a group of under-19 players featuring a lot in the ABC Motsepe League. The preparation was always about giving a good account of ourselves at this tournament,” he said.
“For us, it is always about playing a good brand of football, believing in ourselves and just taking it game by game,” he said.
“This squad has developed nicely,” he said. “We went to the Coke semi-final last year. We added a few additions in areas we felt needed strengthening and always wanted a balance in our squad going to this tournament.
“We started terribly,” said Daniels, “we really only hit our straps in the final group game and it was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to us.”
Grassy Park faced Hellenic in what Daniels calls, “a proper cup quarter-final that had everything”.
“We really gave a fantastic account of ourselves tactically and went toe-to-toe with a lot of belief that it can give us a reward. We went behind to a well taken free kick after we created a few chances ourselves and couldn’t put it away. We definitely deserved to come back into the game and after a late tactical change moving our left back (Tyreez Rivaldo Davidson) upfront to add an extra body in the last few minutes and changed our shape a bit just to create extra pressure, we finally got the reward in the last couple of minutes of the game,” he said.
“Going into extra time we tactically switched it again with all our extra attacking options on the park. We knew it would be a big shift that would get us over the line. In the first half of extra time − both teams leaving spaces especially out wide which helped us as we had a lot of numbers to compete whenever a ball got delivered. It paid off with a header from our number 9, Ryan that the keeper misjudged. It was all about protecting the lead now and looking after the goal that we scored and we managed to do it well.”
A bigger challenge awaited in the finals but ultimately, the record will show, final score Grassy Park 2 Cape Town Spurs 1.