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By Katlego Modiba

Football Journalist

OPINION – Stellies’ fairytale run deserves more credit

It has been a fairy tale campaign that has seen them lift their first ever major knockout trophy in top flight football.

Before the 2023-2024 DStv Premiership season, no one could have predicted that Stellenbosch FC would go on a 22-game unbeaten run. Not even Stellies coach Steve Barker could have imagined the possibility of putting together such an incredible streak.

I don’t think the team from the Cape Winelands are getting the credit they deserve for what has been an unbelievable season so far. It has been a fairytale campaign that has seen them lift their first ever major knockout trophy in top flight football.

They bagged the Carling Black Label Knockout following a 5-4 win on penalties against TS Galaxy at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban last December. Even then, Barker and his team were not given the respect they deserved. Many thought they would maybe suffer from a cup hangover after winning the beer cupm as we have seen in season gone by with other teams

After the final, Barker made a bold claim that they were aiming higher and wanted to play in the Caf Champions League. It seemed far fetched at the time and many people still had doubts over the character of his team. 

Well, humble pie is being served and Stellenbosch are not just a flash in the pan. Just imagine the noise that would have been made had any of the Soweto giants put up such a great run with one trophy already in the cabinet.

Let me put their amazing run into perspective – the last time Stellies felt the bitter taste of defeat was in September last year against Mamelodi Sundowns and that was seven months ago. They haven’t looked back ever since that game by recording 14 outright wins across all competitions and scored 41 goals in the process.

What’s even more impressive is that they have been tested during this period and passed with flying colours. They completed a league double over Orlando Pirates, who were seen as the team to challenge Sundowns early in the season. Who can forget them scoring three goals in the last 20 minutes of the game in Orlando to win 3-2 against Pirates after trailing 2-0 for the majority of the game?

The win over the Rockets in the Carling Knockout final is also testament to their resolve, they came from a goal down to force the game into extra time and held their nerve in the penalty shootout.

Coach of the season?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Stellenbosch pips Pirates, Sekhukhune United and SuperSport United to second place in the league and qualify for the champions league. After all, it was Barker that believed when no one else did

Stellenbosch also have another cup competition in their sights, having reached the semifinals of the Nedbank Cup.

I know this will be a hotly contested debate when the season draws closer but the 56-year-old should be in with a shout for coach of the season. It would be hard to argue against the individual prize going to Rulani Mokwena if the Brazilians goes the whole campaign unbeaten but Barker has done tremendously well with a less fancied team.