WATCH: The meteoric rise of Highlands Park

Highlands Park goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini (blue shirt) celebrates with junior team players.

Three years ago, Highlands Park Football Club was competing in the third tier of the South African football league and no one would have thought that the club would be playing in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) for the 2016/17 season.

After finishing in 11th position in their maiden season in the National First Division (NFD) last year, the Johannesburg north-based side brought in some quality players and coaching staff for the 2015/16 season as they looked to step up their bid for promotion to the PSL. In the beginning of this season, the club recruited former Platinum Stars coach Allan Freese as their chief mentor for their new campaign.

The team finished as runners-up to NFD champions Baroka FC which meant that they qualified for the PSL promotional playoffs.

In the playoffs, Highlands Park beat third-placed NFD side Mbombela United 3–0 and defeated 15th placed PSL team, University of Pretoria better known as Tuks, 1–0. This meant Highlands needed one point against United in the return match to gain promotion and they garnered all three by convincingly beating the NFD team 2–0.

Highlands’s promotion effectively relegated the University of Pretoria from the premiership.

Freese attributed his team’s success to the support of the club’s management. “The league has been a challenge but the management has responded well,” he said.

“When we came to this ground [Balfour Park] it was not that good, but the management has helped us and that has motivated the players.”

Brad Kaftel, co-chairperson of Highlands Park, said the hard work which the technical staff had put in behind the scenes was paying dividends. He praised Larry Brookstone, fellow co-chairperson and technical director of the team, for the tireless work he constantly put in.

“He is a key figure in the club and puts enormous time and effort into the team. His efforts are a big competitive edge for us,” said Kaftel.

Highlands Park Football Club, affectionately known as the Lions of the North, is one of the oldest clubs in the country. Formed in 1959, the team has been through several name variations and is now back to the original Highlands Park FC.

Nkululeko Zilibokwe

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