In the 1940's, Moroka Swallows were part of the first set of "Soweto Giants", the name given to the two big clubs in Soweto - Orlando pirates being the other. Moroka Swallows were the first football team to register as a public company in South Africa and the first to get sponsorship in the 1980's. But now, in 2015, they have been relegated for the first time from the top-tier. The birds are no longer flying.
Swallows' demotion to the national first division was a slow burn of disappointment which started last season, when they finished in 13th place, with just 31 points out of a possible 90. This season they went one worse. Even before they were bundled out of the South African Premier League (PSL), 2014-15 was officially their worst since the PSL started in 1996. They slumped to a record number of defeats -- 16 -- with one game left in the season but managed to avoid earning the least number of wins -- seven -- with a victory in their final match, which also helped them avoid automatic relegation.
The inevitable was painful. It came after losing to Black Leopards in a promotion/relegation play off, which in South Africa actually consists of a mini-league of three teams with the one that tops the pool advancing. Each side plays the other twice, which means Swallows still have a game to play before they skulk away to deal with their sadness. Already, it has started to sprout.
"It is very embarrassing to lose with a score line like that considering how we played in our last game," said veteran striker Siyabonga Nomvethe, referring to Swallows' 2-0 victory over Black Leopards from earlier in the promotion/relegation playoffs. "I am very disappointed with the way we performed."
Nomvethe, who has been with the club for five years, is one of the best-placed people to make an assessment of that nature. He has seen it all with Swallows. The highest high was in the 2011-12 season under former national coach Gordon Igesund when they finished in a best-ever second place. Nomvethe, a 34-year-old, made a mockery of youth by ending with the most goals of the season (20) and scooped the Footballer of the Year and Players' Player of the Season awards. Now, he is experiencing the lowest low.
What's changed in that time is the increasing instability in Swallows' nest. This season they went through four coaches, starting with Zeca Marques who is now in charge of the Black Leopards, the team that cost Swallows their spot in the PSL. Swallows then ended the season with Craig Rosslee, who began the season with AmaZulu, the other top-tier club who was relegated. Rosslee was appointed to Swallows with six games to go in the season in the hope he would save them from nose-diving, but it was too late.
In the aftermath, Rosslee has admitted he is unlikely to stay on to try and get Swallows back into the top flight. "Obviously if we stayed up, I would have loved to be offered to stay, but that is not the case. At the end of the day, coaching is my passion, but the First Division is a difficult task," he said.
As it turns out, it is even difficult when you're winning. At the other end of the table, Kaizer Chiefs' title-winning coach Stuart Baxter resigned despite still having a year on his contract. He has been linked to a job in Turkey but has only said he is headed to Sweden to "rest," before considering his next move.
Baxter joins an exodus from the champion club, who also confirmed that goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, captain Tefu Mashamaite and Mandla Masango are among the three most notable names to leave out of a list of seven. Chiefs manager Bobby Motaung hinted
hinted that the three big names wanted more money and even accused Khune of being "disrespectful," to the club after being their highest paid player.
At the end of the day, perhaps Swallows may take some comfort from the developments at the new(er), and undoubtedly richer, "Soweto Giants" -- Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs -- who have proved that whether you're the most or least successful team in the country, your wings could always be in danger of being clipped.