We have seen the Telkom Cup come and go, and this past weekend, the MTN-8 quarter-finals in which Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Ajax and Moroka Swallows progressed to the semi-finals, signalling the beginning the new 2010/11 season, the first after the first ever FIFA World Cup on African soil.
It is a well-known fact; South Africa football climax was the 1995/6 period. South Africa started to participate on the international football scene after FIFA unbanned the Association at the “end of apartheid” when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. The township football that was prevalent in the South African league was a closed book to the world.
By the same token, the world football was an unknown jungle to the South African. As a result, disaster was imminent. South Africa entered the stage, being beaten by Nigeria and even embarrassingly by neighbouring Zimbabwe. That 4-1 loss to the Zimbabwe Warriors opened a new chapter for the “Shoe Shine Piano”, as this township football was known. This type of the game was meant to do just 2 things.
1. To entertain the crowd, who always can in droves to see the exuberant skills of the great Jomo Sono, Zane Moosa, Ace Ntsoelelngoe, Teenage Dladla, Fani Madida, Augustine Makhalakhalane, Mike Sporo Mangena, the list is endless.
2. To embarrass the opponents who could not match the fancy foot-work or respond efficiently to the trickery by being ridiculed by the technically gifted players.
There was no progression of football from this. South Africa did well to respond quickly and efficiently to the demands of the modern game. One of the great demise of the local game was belief in the jujuman. Witchcraft was the centre of the matches and witch doctors made a good living for their contribution. It was a deep-rooted culture that was hard to overcome. There are still a few who will not do without juju. Some players will not take to the field without some talisman of some sort.
As growth from that culture, the rise of the beautiful game was matched with talent at the disposal of both the league and Bafana Bafana. The local administrators were still fair enough to trust in their own coaches. The generation of players at this stage were incredible characters with big hearts.
I will always refer to the great Orlando Pirates team that won the Africa Champions’ League. There was William Okpara, Helman Midnight Express Mkhalele, Jerry Legs of Thunder Skhosana, John Moeti and Dumisa Ngobe, just to mention a handful.
The following year Bafana Bafana complemented that win with the Africa Nations Cup win at FNB Stadium. Again, great players like Sizwe Motaung, Linda Buthelezi, Mark Williams, Donald Khuse, David Nyathi and John Shoes Moshoeu were prominent.
The South African game was exposed to the world, and players like Eric Tinkler, Mark Fish, Lucas Radebe, Shaun Bartlet, Phil Masinga and David Nyathi went to play overseas in the English Premiership, Serie A, Turkey and the Bundesliga.
South Africa qualified for the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup in France. The world was also now exposed to South African football. This was the peak of the local game. That generation got overexposed in financial terms and their abilities were compromised. As soon as money compromised the local talent, the downward spiral saw no end. As reported earlier, the current crop of players do not measure up. They have it far too easy.