The stage is set and Erica Park, in Belhar, is ready to host the 30th edition of the Bayhill Premier Cup.
The tournament, which runs from today, Wednesday April 17, to Easter Monday April 20, will see 32 teams from Cape Town, elsewhere in South Africa and beyond our borders, locking horns over four days.
And, media liaison officer Roger Clayton said this year’s competition is expected to attract even more interest, not only because it celebrates three decades of existence, but also because, thanks to the drought that hit the city, last year’s event had to be cancelled.
“Feedback has been great and the people can’t wait for the kickoff,” he said.
Supersport United are, therefore, the last side to win the competition, when they lifted back-to-back trophies, in 2016 and 2017.
The Tshwane-based outfit will, once again be a team to beat, come Easter weekend. They are slotted in an unpredictable Group A alongside Jacaranda Callies, Saints FC and Mandalay’s Ulana Academy.
Six time champions Ajax, who last won the competition in 2014, are in Group C, alongside 2009 winners Mamelodi Sundowns, Black Birds Academy and Rygate’s Silver Spurs FC.
There is no doubt that the dark horses of this year’s tournament will be Grassy Park United. The side’s juniors have been doing well in the past two years or so. It is not really surprising that they have reached a number of finals including last year’s Engen under-17 Knockout Challenge, where they lost 2-1 against Hellenic, and the Coke Cup, which they won after beating Silver Spurs in the final, also at Erica Park.
The side are slotted in Group F, alongside neighbours Greenwood Athletic, Mitchell’s Plain’s Bayview and the University of Pretoria.
Newcomers, Hout Bay United is another side to look out for come Easter weekend. The fact that they are a closed book to many of their opponents may just work in their favour.
The side went through a tough qualifying process, where they made it to the tournament proper (alongside Hellenic) at the expense of 2015 champions Glendene United and an equally impressive Ikapa Sporting.
In the tournament proper, the side will battle it out in Group E alongside Cape Town City, Khanyounis Centre Club and FC Porto.
Milano United can also not be written off, as they proved to be hard to beat. They will, however, have their work cut out when they take on the home side Belhar Spurs, Maties and Virginia Academy in Group D.
Group H should be another interesting one. Langa’s PPG together with Mitchell’s Plain’s Beacon Spurs and Rock-A-Fellas, will fight it out with Bloemfontein Celtic. This is one group where there are no real favourites.
Clayton said preparations for this year’s tournament have been running smoothly and the organisers are expecting an even bigger tournament.
Who can blame him? Clayton, who is turning 70 when the tournament kicks off on April 17, has been there since 1989, when the competition’s first ever whistle was blown.
He knows the tournament inside-out and outside-in.
He said they haven’t introduced any major changes, in terms of organisation, ahead of this year’s event. That he said was because the systems they already have in place have been running smoothly.
“Having said that, we beefed up the criteria we used in terms of scrutinising the players’ age. This year, for instance, we are using passports and ID documents, rather than birth certificates when registering players.
The reason for that is to make sure there is no age cheating,” he said.
Clayton also noted that the supporters were in for some exciting football, especially considering the quality of the teams that made this year’s event.
“The fans can’t wait for the tournament to begin. From last year already, people have been asking me for the tournament, and that is a good thing. We are grateful to many people and organisations for that.
“They were able to put the word out there and the fans responded positively,” he said.
The tournament’s official opening match between Ajax Cape Town and Mamelodi Sundowns kicks off at 8pm, on Good Friday, April 19.