The scene is set for the 8th annual MTN PMB High Schools Football Association Cup, to be held at Howick High from Friday to Sunday this weekend and one can argue with conviction that it’s anyone’s ballgame.
Having watched a number of the teams this year it is a lottery as to who emerge with the trophy.
The strength of the teams in Pietermaritzburg (PMB) and KZN midlands boys’ high school football is so evenly-matched this year.
The unpredictable nature of the outcomes this season means that it’s impossibly hard to determine with any semblance of accuracy, who the finalists will be, come the aftermath of the 3pm trophy match on the Howick High School turf on Sunday.
What is absolutely dead-certain as we draw close to Friday afternoon’s opening exchanges is that there are 20 schoolboy first teams with gold medals on their mind and nothing else.
Any of the usual big guns could win it, as they have all beaten each other over the course of the season. The tournament kicks off at 1pm on Friday, with the boys’ final scheduled for 3pm on Sunday.
Hilton College are the two-time defending champions and are looking to become the first side to win the trophy three times – 2017 winners, 2018 winners, 2019 winners.
They beat Maritzburg College in an excruciating penalty shootout in last year’s final and the boys of the RedBlackWhite will be pushing to go one better.
It has certainly been a trophy season for the Maritzburg College lads, having already picked up the PMB A League and the Primo League titles in 2019.
St Charles College – the most dangerous of sides – were one of last year’s semi-finalists.
Saints bowed out to Hilton in yet another agonising penalty shootout, penalties that were so masterfully managed by ace Hilton College keeper Costi Christodoulou, last year’s SA U17 soccer captain and Manchester City trialist.
Haythorne made up the 2018 semi-final quartet. And like the French rugby team, one never knows which Haythorne brand of football will turn up on the day – it can be inspirational stuff that feeds off the moment, or it can be rather disappointing.
Of some of the other teams, Carter are never to be trifled with in Cup football while I personally have a great deal of time for the Michaelhouse team.
Terrific strikers, a solid pair of central defenders, intelligent distributors of the ball – and the most committed of captains in goalkeeper Noah Stanger, the Men of House are, in my opinion, in with a very real chance to wrest the trophy away from their Hilton rivals.
Alex have had a rather disappointing season to date and will no doubt be thirsting to prove a point, as will first-time entrants Eastwood, who won the PMB B League this year and will want to show that they thoroughly deserve their promotion to The Big Show.
Last year was my first taste of MTN PMB FA Cup football and it was a fabulous eye-opener.
The Howick High School set-up is great and the organisation of what is an extremely time-pressured schedule by Uraisha Haswell and her team is second to none.
From humble beginnings, this tournament has become the most popular and most intensely-fought-for accolade in the Pietermaritzburg and KZN midlands region.
This year, there are a total of 36 teams participating: the 20 boys’ teams, as mentioned earlier, and 16 girls’ teams.
In the girls section, Edendale Technical College have ruled the roost of late and are two-time defending champs but they were pushed all the way in last year’s final by hosts Howick, who will be determined to lift the trophy for the first time, on home soil.
Ixopo and Carter will also expect to be in the final stages – or perhaps there could be a surprise from the likes of GHS or from the spirited Kokstad College girls.
It’s been a long wait.
Now the waiting is over.