Organisers of the annual Bayhill under-19 Premier Cup can be forgiven for offering a collective sigh of relief as 2022 champions Cape Town Spurs lined up to face Grassy Park United in the final of the 2023 edition, at Athlone Stadium, on Monday April 10.
By all accounts, the 34th edition was special in many ways, considering it was staged in a post Covid-19 era following severe restrictions brought about by the pandemic which started in 2020, an extended period of drought prior to that and lack of a title sponsor over the past few years.
The decision to move the finals to Athlone Stadium drew criticism from some, while others considered it the best move ever.
The tournament kicked off at Erica Park in Belhar last Wednesday, April 5.
The final day encompassed three matches, the Bruyns Plate Section Final, the Pat Connolly Mid-Section Final and the Roger Clayton Winners Section Final. For the first time in three decades, all sections were won by Cape sides.
Despite a slow start to sales, tickets were selling like hotcakes on the day of the final and rumours of bootleg ones on sale outside the venue, tells a different story. In the tradition of big finals, this was a huge one.
“This year’s Bayhill Premier Cup was completely different to all the other years,” said tournament director Rayaan Allie. Everything we thought we knew was tested, from the planning stage to the implementation at the event proper. Deciding to host the final day at Athlone Stadium came with many logistical challenges but it was the right decision in the end,” he said. The nearly 12 500 people who attended the final will agree.
“This year’s tournament saw a record number of supporters in attendance, even with the restrictions at Erica Park. To mitigate the risk of over-crowding we implemented many firsts which got some communities and supporters up in arms.
“People complained online about our increased ticket price and also the new queueing system amongst others. In the end, the Bayhill Premier Cup yet again proved to be the most prestigious tournament on the African continent.
“Despite the detractors and people inciting a stay-away, we were sold out at Erica Park every single day. We reintroduced the pass-out system which also allowed us to bring in additional patrons as others left. Our turn-around in patrons was well over 34 000 for the five days at Erica Park and 12 000 plus at Athlone Stadium.
“We moved to Athlone Stadium to make sure that we had enough venue capacity for all our spectators. It proved to be the right decision although many people from the Belhar and greater communities disagreed. With the South African Special Risks Insurance Association (Sasria) grading certificate in place at Erica Park, we were only allowed a daily entrance of about 3 000 people since the capacity was capped at 4 300. We have 750 participants in the event and 254 working staff members who put this showcase together. Additionally, security numbers peek around 50 to 60 members daily and with the inclusion of services this number easily reaches 100 or more. In hind-sight we would have been found wanting at Erica Park, based on the restrictions.
Athlone Stadium was packed at “The Finals” with over 12 000 bums on seats. This was a great message to the footballing community, showing that local football can produce crowds in excess of 300 to 400 people when it is properly organised.
“We know for sure that our event was not perfect, but this gives us a perfect template to improve on going forward. We are just happy that saying ‘loyal supporters’ is not a cliché. Our supporters showed us their loyalty and next year, we will bring more improvements as we do every year,” he said.