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Picture: 123RF/BOWIE 15
Picture: 123RF/BOWIE 15

The string has finally broken and, in terms of the laws of science, the yo-yo team had to tumble. And so they did, right down to the provincial ABC Motsepe League.

For many who have followed the fortunes of Jomo Cosmos in recent times, the club’s relegation from the GladAfrica Championship, the second tier of SA’s professional league, comes as no surprise.

After moving up and down between the Premier League and the National First Division, much like a lift in a busy hotel — Cosmos were promoted no fewer than three times and relegated four times since the PSL era started in 1996 — they were unable to secure another return to the top flight. Their heartbreaking relegation has now lasted since the end of the 2015/2016 season when they conceded two late goals to succumb 3-1 against Maritzburg United, who managed to escape the axe.

It has been a slide into the abyss for a once-proud club that won the Coca-Cola Cup (predecessor to the Telkom Knockout) in 2002 and 2005 as well as the SAA Supa 8 in 2003. Don’t forget they were also crowned league champions in 1987 and went on to win the BobSave Super Bowl three years later in the NSL era.

After managing to secure a spot in the playoffs at the end of the 2017/2018 season when they missed out on promotion to Black Leopards, Cosmos were  involved in relegation scraps for the last two seasons, only managing to retain their place in the NFD by finishing a single point above the relegation zone.

It is alarming to note that of the 18 clubs that started the first-ever Premier League season in 1996, only five are still campaigning in the top flight — Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns, SuperSport United and AmaZulu, while Moroka Swallows have morphed into Swallows FC.

The rest, including inaugural champions Manning Rangers and other well-established teams such as BidVest Wits, Bloemfontein Celtic, Hellenic, Cape Town Spurs, Witbank Black Aces, Vaal Professionals and now Jomo Cosmos have all, sadly, fallen by the wayside.

After buying the franchise of Highlands Park, one of the country’s leading teams, in 1983, Jomo Sono quickly established Cosmos, a side named after New York Cosmos for whom he played alongside the legendary Pele in 1977, as one of SA’s top clubs.

A feature of Ezenkosi’s early success was Sono’s knack of unearthing rough diamonds, scoured from both inside and outside the country, and moulding them into top-quality footballers.

Over the years the club featured several star players such as the likes of former Bafana captain Aaron Mokoena, Pitso Mosimane, Helman Mkhalele, Mark Fish, Teboho Mokoena, MacBeth Sibaya, Godfrey Sapula, Morgan Gould, Edward Motale and the late Thomas Madigage.

They also had a regular complement of top African internationals such as Benjani Mwaruwari, Tico Tico Bucuane, Chris Katongo and Anthony Laffor, who all wore the Cosmos shirt with distinction.

But while the game moved into a different, more professional era with clubs employing technical and administrative support staff in various fields to enhance their operations, Cosmos remained static in admiring the passing traffic.

Many former players, while showing great respect for Sono’s role in developing their careers, lay the blame for the demise of the club squarely at the door of the boss, who doubled up as coach. A lack of ambition to elevate the club into the modern era and a stubborn determination to continue coaching the side have to be two major factors in the alarming decline of a club that won many admirers in the first two decades of its existence.

But then Sono’s nonchalance doesn’t really come as a surprise. I recall the big man telling me several years ago he doesn’t care too much about fighting to win the league because he makes more money from selling players to European clubs than he would by putting in so much effort over a 30-game campaign that takes 10 months to complete.

Perhaps Sono’s wide range of business interests, which take up much of his time and energy, became more important to him than focusing on the fortunes and growth of his football club. Still, the legendary former midfielder would always find time to watch some local football on his regular business trips to other parts of the continent in the hope of spotting talent.

So where to now for Cosmos? The former Bafana coach, who turns 67 at the end of June, is no spring chicken and it is going to be a tough task for the club to bounce back from the regional league that has developed an unfortunate reputation for skullduggery.

Hopefully Cosmos won’t suffer the same fate as 2001/2002 PSL champions Santos, who have been languishing in the regional league since their relegation from the NFD at the end of the 2016/2017 season. And while they are campaigning down under, Sono could do the country a favour by unearthing a few more rough diamonds who could help restore the club to the big time.


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