Football pitch tug-of-war

Maritzburg FC players training outside the Harry Gwala Stadium. | SUPPLIED

Maritzburg FC players training outside the Harry Gwala Stadium. | SUPPLIED

Published May 5, 2024


Durban — They’re nicknamed the “Team of Choice”, but Maritzburg United FC seem to be even further out of favour with the Msunduzi Municipality, based on their latest claims of being barred from playing at the city’s premier venue, the Harry Gwala Stadium.

Following their relegation from the PSL last year, Maritzburg lost their R27 million seasonal grant from the municipality, which has since been diverted to Royal AM FC, currently playing in the country’s top football league. Harry Gwala was Maritzburg’s home ground in their PSL playing days.

Royal AM FC, owned by wealthy tenderpreneur Shawn Mkhize, has also been accused of hogging usage of Harry Gwala and freezing out Maritzburg, which sees them playing home matches in Durban.

Royal AM FC apparently told the municipality they wanted exclusive use of the facility.

Msunduzi’s previous R27m sponsorship of Maritzburg sparked an outcry from some quarters in the community who believed the money could have been channelled towards essential service delivery projects.

The municipality persisted with the funding and insisted that Maritzburg’s home games in the PSL boosted the city’s economy by attracting tourists.

Royal AM moved into pole position after Maritzburg’s relegation into the Motsepe Foundation Championship in June.

Maritzburg official Petros Dlamini said: “We have been booted out of the stadium, as every time we book it, we are told that we are going to damage the turf.

“This was despite the fact that recently, Umsinga United played against Mkhambathi FC at the same stadium.”

Msunduzi spokesperson Ntobeko Ngcobo did not respond to questions sent to her, and Royal AM general manager Richard Makhoba said: “No comment.”

Royal AM had previously received sponsorship of R15m from the eThekwini Municipality and used Durban’s Chatsworth Stadium as a home base, but it soon relocated to Pietermaritzburg to take over the R27m sponsorship and Harry Gwala Stadium from Maritzburg United.

Maritzburg will play their home game on Sunday (today) at the Sugar Ray stadium.

Dlamini said they trained at the stadium on Saturday.

“We organised buses from Pietermaritzburg, which are paid for by the supporters,” he said.

“When you Google Motsepe fixtures, you will find that all our games are at Harry Gwala ... but we are not allowed into the stadium.

“We played our first game after relegation at King Zwelithini Stadium (Umlazi) and then we played all our games at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium (Clermont),” he said.

In a letter to Msunduzi on August 7, 2023, Royal AM general manager Richard Makhoba made it clear that his team did not want Maritzburg to use the stadium.

“Currently the utilisation of the Harry Gwala facilities is solely for the Royal AM football club,” read the letter.

“We request your office to please remove Maritzburg United with immediate effect from the training field as our MDC (reserve team) and ladies’ team will soon need a place to train.

“We can’t share the stadium as the maintenance was not done and this will compromise the quality and standard of our field,” read the letter.

Lulamile Mapholoba, a now-suspended municipal manager, then wrote to Maritzburg’s chairperson, Farook Kadodia, on September 4 saying that his team was no longer allowed at the stadium.

Mapholoba said the municipality would refurbish the local Woodburn and Northdale stadiums for Maritzburg but gave no time frames.

However, Dlamini said Mapholoba’s pledge, which was made seven months ago, was still a pipe dream.

“I am raising this matter now because the Northdale Stadium and Woodburn Stadium have never been ready for play. If these stadiums were ready, we were surely going to use them.”

Dlamini added that for the stadium to meet professional soccer standards, major upgrades of the playing area and spectator areas were needed.

He said they would equally feel at home playing at Northdale and Woodburn because of their previous association with those venues, but playing at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium frustrated their team as it was difficult for its supporters to travel to Pinetown for matches.

Both the municipality and Royal AM remained tight-lipped about whether the R27m sponsorship deal was still on.

The DA had, in October, approached the Pietermaritzburg High Court seeking an order to overturn the municipality's decision to spend ratepayers’ money on Royal AM.

DA councillor Ross Strachan said the matter had been delayed due to the failure to secure a suitable court date. He said the matter was further delayed by the recent death of a Royal AM lawyer.

Sunday Tribune