Stars of diski: South Africa’s football greats

Bafana Bafana are on the up, once again wearing the badge with pride. One day we’re likely to talk about this group of players with the same reverence as our legendary heroes – Steve “Kalamazoo” Mokone, Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe, Jomo Sono and Kaizer Motaung.

HtenBrinkElftal-1024x704 Steve “Kalamazoo” Mokone (front row, far right) in the 1957 to 1958 squad for Dutch football club Heracles Almelo. Mokone is so beloved in the Netherlands that there is a street named after him in Amsterdam. (Image: Salmon Palangana)

Football-mad South Africa has had its share of greats, men who have not only wowed their countrymen, but have gone on to fly the flag in other countries as well. Among these legends are men who were stars long before the game was just about money. They were men whose reputations were built on their skill, and not the size of their wallet.

Early stars

Among South Africa’s early football exports were Steve “Kalamazoo” Mokone, Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe, Jomo Sono and Kaizer Motaung.

Once signed for Barcelona (he never played a single game at the Palau Blaugrana arena) Mokone was the first black South African to play professional football in Europe. After signing up for English club Coventry City in 1955, Mokone went on to achieve superstar status playing for the Dutch side Heracles and later for Torino in Italy.

At the time he was one of a handful of players to earn £10 000 a year. By 1959 he was rated as one of the best soccer players in Europe, and was being compared to the all-time greats of the game.

05.-CET-14-08-1956-Kalamazoo-arrives-2

Ntsoelengoe was a legend with Kaizer Chiefs Football Club in the 1970s before moving to the United States for 11 seasons. He was in the North American Soccer League (NASL) all-star team in 1979 and 1982 and was inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 2003.

 aceAce Ntsoelengoe in the 1976 Minnesota Kicks squad. (Image: Stimulated Faculties)

Sono, owner of Jomo Cosmos FC, had a tough childhood. His father, Orlando Pirates midfielder Eric “Scara” Bhamuza Sono, died in a car crash and his mother abandoned him. Being from Orlando East in Soweto, Orlando Pirates was his home club before he moved on to play for the New York Cosmos, where one of his team-mates was the legendary player Pelé.

Blizzard-82-Road-Jomo-Sono-CosmosJomo Sono in action against Angelo DiBernado in 1982. (Image: NASL Jerseys)

Motaung – “Chincha-Guluva” as he was affectionately known because of his dribbling skills – played for Orlando Pirates. After a successful stint with US club Atlanta Chiefs he came back and formed the club Kaizer Chiefs, one of the most revered teams in South African football and the biggest rival to Orlando Pirates.

Chiefs-68-Road-Kaizer-Motaung-Santos-Pele-ExhA 22-year-old Kaizer Motaung with Brazilian football legend Pele in 1968. (Image: NASL Jerseys)

Class of ’96

Fast-forward a few decades and a new crop of players sprang up who would go on to be known as the Class of ’96 after winning the Africa Cup of Nations, or Afcon, two years into South Africa’s new democracy.

From that crop Lucas “Rhoo” Radebe, Doctor “16V” Khumalo and Phil “Chippa” Masinga stand out for also appealing internationally and having great careers.

Watch highlights of Bafana Bafana’s victory against Tunisia in the final of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations:

Radebe plied his trade with Kaizer Chiefs before leaving them in 1994 and going to Leeds United in the UK. Leeds player of the year in 1998 he became club captain and remains a hero to the fans at Elland Road, the clubs home. The English band Kaiser Chiefs, all Leeds fans, named the band in honour of Kaizer Chiefs, Radebe’s first club.

Khumalo, nicknamed after the Volkswagen GTI, a popular car in the township of Soweto at the time was a dribbling wizard that could read the game well. He was the guy that passed to Masinga to score the winning goal for the Afcon title. Khumalo played for the Moroka Swallows reserves before going to Kaizer Chiefs and then on to play for LA Galaxy in the US.

Masinga scored the winning goal in the Afcon final of 1996 and brought South Africa to a standstill. A lanky striker with a thunderous shot, Masinga made use of his height advantage very well to score many goals during his illustrious career. He played for Jomo Cosmos and Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa before going to Leeds United and Italy’s Bari.

The millennium revelations

Benni McCarthy is the only South African player to have ever won the European Cup Champions League. He is probably the most decorated South African players having won the Eredivisie with Ajax Amsterdam; Portuguese League with Porto under Jose Mourinho; and, a championship treble with Orlando Pirates where he retired in 2013.

Watch Benni McCarthy’s top 10 goals for AFC Ajax:

Aaron Mokoena is the first and only South African player with a century caps (107). He represented South Africa in four African Cup of Nations (1998, 2002, 2004, 2008), two World Cups (2002 and 2010) and the 2000 Summer Olympics. He was the captain of the South African team in the FIFA 2010 World Cup and was also Portsmouth FC captain in 2009 in the UK’s Premier League.

Still playing regularly in the top flight league in South Africa, Siyabonga Nomvete can still put many a younger striker to shame. Having played in several European leagues, and now Moroka Swallows in the Premier Soccer League, Nomvete has represented Bafana Bafana since 6 May 1999, and he played in the 2002 and 2010 World Cups.

These are not all of the greatest players to come from South Africa but their accomplishments continue to inspire the players that came after.