For more than 30 years, the Easter weekend has seen football fanatics pack their camp chairs and cooler boxers and head to the field for the annual Bayhill under-19 Premier Cup.
And this year’s tournament, which was meant to take place at its usual venue at Erica Park in Belhar, from Wednesday April 8 to Monday April 13, is only the second one not to go ahead, since its inception in 1989.
Teams had already qualified and the draw was made. But, as the preparations were getting under way, the tournament had to be called off due to the international outbreak of Covid-19.
This meant that Highlands Park will not be able to defend the title they won last year, when they beat Mamelodi Sundowns in the final. This also means that most qualifying players will not be eligible to take part in next year’s competition, as they will be over-age. So, their dreams of playing in this competition have gone down the drain.
Former players, who went on to make names for themselves at the highest level, always emphasise the importance of this competition, in terms of development.
Rushine de Reuck and Masizakhe Myataza are two of the competition’s recent graduates who went on to play at the highest level.
De Reuck, from Kalksteenfontein, is a regular at high-flying PSL side, Maritzburg United. After joining the side at the beginning of the 2017/2018 season, the tough-tackling defender went on to play in the final of South Africa’s biggest knockout competition, the Nedbank Cup.
His side, however, lost against Free State Stars at Cape Town Stadium.
Myataza, on the other hand, went on to win that same competition after his side, then little-known TS Galaxy beat the biggest team in the country, Kaizer Chiefs, 1-0 in the final.
De Reuck, who captained ASD Academy in two Bayhill tournaments, in 2013 and 2014, described it as a stepping stone.
“I got a chance to show what I can do and also prove to myself that I can compete against the elite of this country. It was a great experience, I had my family and all my former teammates and people of Kalksteenfontein watching me,” he said.
He also noted that taking part in this competition brought out the best in all the players and, for him, the fact that he was his side’s skipper meant more responsibility.
“Because of how well ASD did along the years, being the captain added a bit more pressure and responsibility but I can say that I was ready for that, the boys trusted me and they knew what to expect from me, I can’t promise that I’m going to have a good game every time I step onto the field but what I can promise is that I will give it my all to help the team , and they drew inspiration from that; we are all our own captains, we don’t need an armband.”
De Reuck said he agrees with those who regard Bayhill as the biggest under-19 tournament in the country. This, he said, was because local players get a chance to play against PSL clubs, which is what everyone wants for themselves.
“You want to play against the best and see how far you’ve come with your development.”
You realise a lot of things at the Bayhill, it’s either you are on track in terms of your development or you have a lot of work to do on yourself. I played for ASD and we had many great players so it wasn’t really that hard for us, but just the experience was amazing, playing in front of massive crowds and, with the exposure we got, we really had to apply yourself well if we wanted to go pro,” he said.
The 24-year-old was also quick to note that his time at ASD Academy taught him most of what he knows about the game.
“That can’t be taught within one week, it takes years, they prepared me to perform well at the Bayhill.”
His message to youngsters who would like to consider football as a career is simple.
“Don’t let your surroundings define your future, there’s so much to live for, so much to do and so much to achieve, go all out on everything you put your mind too, it takes many hours of hard work, commitment and sacrifice and it’s all going to be worth it”.
Myataza, like Reuck, took part in his second and last Bayhill competition in 2014. He was a goalkeeper for the Santos side that was captained by another current professional player, Fagrie Lakay.
“I have played two Bayhill tournaments and my best one was the one we lost in the semifinals. Even though we lost, having gone so far in the tournament gave me great exposure as a player.
“My experience in the competition was mind-blowing. I was a young lad from langa, playing for Santos and inexperienced but, after that tournament, I realised that I am capable of making a career in football.
“The difference between the Bayhill and other tournaments I have played in is, without a doubt, the organisation and the formidable opponents you get to play against,” he said.