Chronicles from the 2022 Carling Black Label Cup
Being a journalist is no picnic.
Late hours, poor pay, sad stories and the ever-present stress of looming deadlines are part and parcel of the profession; and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
However, once in a while we get to take part in events that are quite simply out of this world.
One such adventure came calling this week when Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL) invited me to attend the 2022 Carling Black Label Cup in Johannesburg.
As a sports reporter and an avid football fan, I jumped at the chance.
Thus, on Friday afternoon, along with four lucky winners and their partners plus a small delegation from KBL, we arrived at SSKI Airport for our date with destiny.
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The competition winners had secured their place on the trip by buying two Black Label quarts – ‘as simple as that’, I thought, chuckling at memories of the countless quarts my mates and I have chugged in the past; all we won was a hangover!
Even though this was not my first time on a plane, there’s always a thrill when taking to the sky and this again proved the case.
The 39-minute flight passed smoothly apart from some heavy turbulence towards the end, shaking me from my stupor as I daydreamed of the fun to come.
Landing at OR Thambo shortly after 1900hrs, we were whisked off to our hotel, the Southern Sun Hotel, arriving just in time for dinner.
Before retiring for bed, the receptionist revealed the Kaizer Chiefs squad were camping in the same hotel. I usually see big players when they come to play against our local teams during CAF Championship Games but sleeping in the same hotel felt massive.
“I wonder if Itumeleng Khune will mind being woken up for a quick pic,” I chuckled, realizing the Black Label must be kicking in.
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Deciding against going autograph hunting in the night, I hit the hay, setting my alarm for 4am to compile a short update for the paper’s online platform.
Normally played as a pre-season curtain raiser, this year’s Carling Black Label Cup featured a twist, with Mamelodi Sundowns and Amazulu FC taking part along with the regulars, Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
Eager to impress, I hurried down to the restaurant as we had been told we might get the chance to interview one of the Chiefs players at breakfast.
Although I got a glimpse of the likes of Keagan Dolly, Molomowandau Mathoho, Khama Billiat, Happy Mashiane and a trim-looking Khune, no interviews or even pictures were permitted.
Our disappointment was short-lived, however, as we were given brand new Carling Black Label tracksuits to keep warm in the rain with a bit of swag.
With excitement in the group mounting, we set off for Soweto and the greatest stadia in Africa, and probably one of the best in the world: the FNB Stadium.
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With a 94, 736 capacity, ‘Soccer City’ hosted the 2010 World Cup final, in which Spain famously beat Holland in extra time.
Due to heavy traffic as the masses made their way to the ground, what should have been a 45-minute journey became a two-hour crawl.
The magnificent stadium was worth the wait. Used to covering matches at the Molepolole Sports Complex, this was truly another galaxy! From the looks of awe etched upon their faces, I could tell my comrades felt the same.
The sound of vuvezala’s blaring from within told us the first game had already started – late to cover a game, at least some things never change!
Joining the sweeping hordes, we hurriedly entered the ground and were guided to our reserved seating in the upper level.
Already 1-0 up, Sundowns went on to beat Amazulu 3-0 to secure their place in the final.
With the ground rapidly filling up, it felt as if the opening game was a curtain raiser for the main event: a clash between the Soweto giants, Pirates and Chiefs.
At exactly 1200hrs, the bar was officially opened for the lucky winners, delegates and invited guests to grab a beverage of their choice. As well as beer, whiskey, wine and gin were also on the menu.
‘Booze and ball, what more could a boy want’, I thought happily, pinching myself to make sure I hadn’t died and gone to heaven!
As the Pirates and Chiefs players walked out for the second-semi final, the local competition winners started singing their Setswana choirs (Dikhwaere). Swept away in the moment, I briefly joined in – a first for me as I never sing!
Although the match finished goalless, there was plenty of attacking endeavor from both teams and the 90 minutes flew by.
It meant the clash would be decided by penalties, with Pirates holding their nerve from the spot to win 6-5 and set-up a grand finale with Sundowns.
Desperate to get a bit closer to the action and take some good pitch side snaps, some of our party embarked on a ‘short’ trip to the lower level.
Perhaps sensing we were not from around, the South African fans seemed slightly hostile to our presence, and a few insults were hurled our way – nothing us journalists don’t have to put up with when covering court but it was a bit scary and I could tell my friends were rattled.
After taking action pictures and videos we hurried back to our spot, which proved somewhat of a challenge due to the sheer size of the venue. You cannot easily maneuver around without the help of security guards, who it seems only spoke Zulu.
The ‘loser’s final’ was also decided on penalties, with Chiefs making amends to win the shootout 4-2.
The build-up to the big final began with massive performances reminiscent of the WC Opening ceremony 12 years ago. I was particularly impressed by SA Amapiano artist, Costa Titch, who stole the show.
Kicking off at 1700hrs, the showpiece showdown proved slightly anti-climatic, an early red card to Buccaneers defender, Thapelo Xoki, effectively killing their chances.
Making the most of their one-man advantage, Sundowns run riot, the Tshwane-based side putting four past a helpless Pirates. Although it was one-sided, the football was breathless to watch.
As the ground emptied, with most leaving disappointed, ‘the KBL crew’ hung around for a few well deserved ‘after-party’ drinks.
What a way to end an incredible day!
After the excitement of Saturday, Sunday was more relaxing, the day spent chilling at the hotel as we waited for our five o’clock flight back home.
Chatting at the bar, I learnt that two of the winners, Lucas Moleele and Botlhe Moitho, were effectively on their honeymoon.
The couple tied the knot on 28 October and, three days after saying ‘I do’, Botlhe received a call from KBL informing her she had won an all-expenses paid trip to the Carling Black Label Cup.
“At first we took it as a prank but soon realised it was the real deal. This journey was a gift from God. Getting an opportunity to watch two of the biggest teams in the continent, Chiefs and Pirates, with my wife was unforgettable,” said Lucas, adding it was their first time on an aeroplane.
“The whole experience was amazing, I had the best time ever!” he concluded as we touched down in Gaborone, tired but with memories that will last a lifetime.