Plans for Marumo Gallants to revive Bloem Celtic, TTM also in the picture

17 March 2023 - 07:50 By Sithembiso Dindi and Marc Strydom
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Marumo Gallants chair Abram Sello.
Marumo Gallants chair Abram Sello.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

There are plans for Marumo Gallants to relocate to the Free State and revive hugely popular Bloemfontein Celtic, but those appear to hinge on the nomadic team owned by Abram Sello surviving in the DStv Premiership in 2022-23.

The plan was confirmed by Sello and Free State MEC for sport, arts, culture and recreation Limakatso Mahasa.

Gallants are in last place in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) and in a desperate fight for survival.

A further potential stumbling block is that the previous owner of Celtic, Max Tshabalala — who sold the club's Premiership franchise to Shauwn Mkhize to form Durban top-flight team Royal AM in August 2021 — is apparently reluctant to sell the naming rights for Siwelele cheaply.

TimesLIVE is also reliably informed that Mkhize has been behind another plan to revive Celtic, which would involve the team she sold Royal's Motsepe Foundation Championship (first division or NFD) status to — Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM) — re-forming as Celtic.

However, TTM — owned by Lawrence Mulaudzi — are in danger of being relegated from the NFD, where they are in second-last place, and the Free State local government are not keen on supporting the plan.

Mahasa said the demise of excellently-supported Celtic left a hole in the Free State's sports infrastructure.

“We have had talks trying to resolve the issue but if you look at the league [table], they [Gallants] are not in a good position and that makes it difficult for us to say we will support them fully,” she said.

“At this stage we want a team in the PSL. If they survive, we will support them.

“We are only talking to Marumo and Bloemfontein Celtic's supporters. We said if the team is moving to Free State, [the supporters] must have shares in the club because we don’t want this thing of ... an owner who can decide again to sell without consulting us or the fans.”

Mahasa said so far the provincial government has been unsuccessful in facilitating negotiations with Tshabalala to sell Celtic's naming rights. “We tried to negotiate with Mr Tshabalala but we are not winning so maybe they will try to register a different name, like Marumo Celtic.”

She said they are “not talking to TTM, but even with them, if they get to the top tier we will consider supporting them”.

Sello confirmed the talks with the Free State government.

Marumo, based in Limpopo, have become a nomadic team in the Premiership in 2022-23, playing home matches in Rustenburg and Bloemfontein, which the club's owner said was aimed at finding a better support base.

“The talks are there [to move to Bloemfontein], because you have to open all the avenues in terms of how you take football to the people,” Sello said. “But we can’t just walk into the province without talking to the leadership. We can’t just go there without talking to those who would support us.

“Another thing is will [Free State businesses] support you in terms of sponsorships? All those things are [being discussed].

"[A main factor] is our performance in the [premier] league — if all those come together, then we can come to you [the media] and say this is where we stand.”

Sello said Marumo enjoyed resounding support from the local government and people of Bloemfontein when they hosted Mamelodi Sundowns in their 3-1 Nedbank Cup defeat at Free State Stadium on March 2, where Celtic fans were out in numbers and full voice to support Gallants.

I can’t say I’m going to move or stay. The environment must be created where everybody feels the need of positioning the team there
Abram Sello

“I can’t say I’m going to move or stay. The environment must be created where everybody feels the need of positioning the team there.”

TimesLIVE understands Mkhize also approached the Free State local government, proposing to facilitate that TTM become Celtic.

TTM have relocated to the Free State from Limpopo and played home matches at Petrus Molemela Stadium, Celtic's old home ground. TimesLIVE is informed TTM have used Siwelele Park — which Tshabalala still has a lease on, and where he still maintains Celtic's academy — as a training ground.

Pictures circulated on social media of TTM's squad allegedly wearing “Siwelele” T-shirts in camp have fuelled speculation that the club intends reviving Celtic.

Mulaudzi said he would rather comment on the speculation “in a few weeks” once he has a better idea of TTM's mission to survive relegation from the NFD. He did not want to comment on why his players have been pictured wearing “Siwelele” T-shirts.

Max Tshabalala's brother, Mandla, who has been a spokesperson for Celtic in the past, said: “I have only seen this thing in the news and I cannot comment.”

Max Tshabalala could not be reached for comment and did not respond to a WhatsApp message.

Mkhize's personal assistant asked that questions be WhatsApped to her. Mkhize had not responded to them at the time of publishing.

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