The A-Z of South African football

Introducing the world’s barmiest footballing nation including fans who make a spectacle with their spectacles and Archbishop Tutu offering FIFA officials tickets to heaven…

A is for... Argentina The most famous game in South Africa’s apartheid history came in 1976, when 
a multi-racial side – said to be the first selected on merit rather than by skin colour – played Argentina (although because of FIFA sanctions, they went under the guise of a South America XI). Astonishingly, South Africa won 5-0, with striker Ace Ntsoelengoe scoring four of the goals.

B is for... Bafana Bafana The nickname was taken by the South Africa national team after their readmission to FIFA in 1992 following the end of apartheid. It's Zulu for ‘The Boys, The Boys’, and although some say it has negative or patronising connotations, it actually carries a sense of endearment, rather as ‘lads’ would in English.

C is for... CAF South Africa was one of the four original members – along with Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia – of the Confederation of African Football when it was founded in 1957. Although it is often claimed that their failure to take part in the first Africa Cup of Nations, held that year in Sudan, was down to their refusal to send a mixed-race side, the reason was more to do with finances than racial discrimination.

D is for... Disaster at Ellis ParkThe 2001 tragedy – at one of 2010’s World Cup venues – in which 43 people were killed still haunts South African football. With the ground already overcrowded and thousands outside trying to get in, an equaliser from Orlando Pirates in their derby against Kaizer Chiefs led to a fatal stampede.

E is for... Essop ‘Smiley’ Moosa In November 1972, Berea Park beat Rangers 3-1 in the semi-final of the NFL Cup – a competition for white sides – their victory inspired by a 19-year-old prodigy with suspiciously bronzed skin called Arthur Williams, who seemed extremely popular with fans in one of the non-white pens.

Williams, of course, was a fake name, and the player was actually Essop Moosa, the brilliant Mamelodi Sundowns winger. Although nothing in the NFL rules said teams had to be all-white, Moosa, whose ID book classified him as ‘Indian’, was warned by police not to try the stunt again.

To make things even worse, Indians and Coloureds were then banned from playing in the ‘African’ league, despite technically being ‘blacko’, by virtue of not being ‘white’. Rejected on all sides, Moosa fell into severe depression and spent time in a psychiatric hospital. His (much) younger brother Zane would later play for the post-apartheid national side.

F is for... Farce The integration of football was a slow and difficult process, with the proliferation of leagues and mergers leading to confusion that entrepreneurs tried to exploit. The most bewildering example came on the opening day of the 1986-87 season, when a packed house at Ellis Park and millions watching on TV saw two sets of players wearing Orlando Pirates shirts walk out for a game against Jomo Cosmos, each claiming to be the ‘true’ version.

Even worse, the leader of one of the factions, China Hlongwane, was surrounded on the pitch by furious rivals and stabbed repeatedly before being dragged away to hospital where, remarkably, he made a full recovery.

G is for... Gary Bailey Although he was born in Ipswich, Bailey grew up in South Africa and began his career with Wits University in Johannesburg. He joined Manchester United in 1978, going on to win the FA Cup in both 1983 and 1985, and was part of England’s squad at the 1986 World Cup. He returned to South Africa to join Kaizer Chiefs in 1988, and is now one of the country’s most recognisable sports broadcasters.

H is for... Helmet, Miner’s Also known as a makarapa and standard gear for the South African fan – usually in club colours, along with a pair of outsize plastic glasses. The helmets came about after a fan was hit on the head with a missile, and Kaizer Chiefs fanatic Alfred Baloyi was given one by a construction worker friend as protection. A talented artist, Baloyi began painting his helmet.

I is for... India A team of Indians from South Africa toured the mother country in 1921. Attendances exceeded 100,000, and the tour helped lead to the foundation of the All-India Football Association. A reciprocal tour was undertaken in 1933, but attracted far less attention than rugby or cricket tours.

J is for... Jeff Butler An Englishman who had led Kaizer Chiefs to the league title, and is rated by many their greatest ever coach, Butler was the first national coach of South Africa after their readmission to FIFA. He was soon dismissed, however, when it emerged that he hadn’t actually played for Notts County, as he claimed on his CV, although his cousin had.

K is for... Kaizer Motaung A star of South African football in the 60s, Motaung left Orlando Pirates to join the NASL’s Atlanta Chiefs in 1968. Fans in his township clubbed together before his departure to buy the best possible clothes, to show Americans that Africans knew how to dress with style. On his return, Motuang poached several of Pirates’ best players to found a new club, Kaizer Chiefs, thus establishing the biggest rivalry in South African football.

L is for... Lucas Radebe Arguably the most successful South African footballer of his generation, and Nelson Mandela’s idol, but it’s amazing he survived long enough to reach such a lofty status.

During his days with Kaizer Chiefs, he became an activist against the regime, carrying a knife and a sjambok (a rhino-hide whip) to mete out a crude form of justice, while hijacking company cars to strike against businesses allied to the government. A decade later, he was playing for Leeds United in the Champions League semi-final.

M is for... Mark Williams Hardly a big name (although he must be the only player ever to have played for both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Brazilian side Corinthians), but in 1996 Williams achieved immortality, coming off the bench to score the two goals that gave South Africa victory over Tunisia in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations. Glory achieved, he drifted back into obscurity: the five goals he scored in that tournament represented more than half his overall total for his country.

N is for... Nicknames The quality of South African football may not be high, but the quality of their nicknames is stratospheric. At one stage, Kaizer Chiefs had a team that included Trevor Mthimkulu, known as ‘AK47’ for the ferocity of his tackling; Theophilius ‘Doctor’ Khumalo, so called for the cerebral quality of his play and the forward Fani ‘Saddam’ Madida, merciless in front of goal.

In the ’30s, Orlando Pirates were led by the bearded striker Sam ‘Baboon Shepherd’ Shabangu; 60 years later his place had been taken by Jerry ‘Legs of Thunder’ Sikhosana. Perhaps best of all, though, was the Moroka Swallows frontman Thomas ‘Who’s Fooling Who’ Hlongwane.

O is for... Orlando Pirates Founded in 1937 in the Soweto township of Orlando, the Pirates are the oldest of South Africa’s modern giants. They’re the only southern hemisphere side to have won the African Champions League, beating ASEC 1-0 in Abidjan to complete a 3-2 aggregate victory in the final in 1995.

P is for... Piano and Shoeshine The name given to the style of football that developed in South Africa during the years of isolation. Without foreign opposition to administer chastening defeats with a more scientific football approach, a heavily skills-orientated method evolved, focused as much on performing tricks and embarrassing an opponent as creating chances or scoring goals. Style (and fun) over substance.

Q is for... Question It’s still being asked in these parts: why did the late Charles Dempsey, the delegate for the Oceanian Football Confederation, abstain, giving Germany a 12-11 victory over South Africa in the voting to decide who should host the 2006 World Cup finals? Had the result been a tie, the casting vote would have gone to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who was firmly behind South Africa. Known as ‘Albert Steptoe’ back home  in New Zealand, Dempsey would say no more than that he had been under "intolerable pressure".

R is for... Robben Island Football was one of the very few diversions in the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, and took on great importance in the prisoners’ lives. They established a football association according to FIFA statutes, with three divisions, complex transfer procedures and a formal disciplinary process, thus giving prisoners a sense of justice they were denied in the outside world.

S is for... Shosholoza A folk song with the rhythm of a steam train, originally sung by migrant workers, the shosholoza has been adopted as the anthem of the South Africa national team:

Shosholoza, shosholoza (Moving fast, moving strong) Ku lezontaba (Through those mountains) Stimela sphuma eSouth Africa (Train from South Africa) Wenu yabaleka (You are leaving) Wenu yabaleka (You are leaving) Ku lezontaba (Through those mountains) Stimela siphum’ eSouth Africa (Train from South Africa)

T is for... Tanti Victor ‘Tanti’ Julius was the first black player openly to play for a white team, turning out as a striker for Arcadia Shepherds against Highlands Park in Pretoria in February 1977. Initially other clubs threatened to expel The Arcs from the league but when they ran onto the pitch with Tanti in their side, "The crowd," according to the club’s then chairman Saul Sacks, "rose as one man, even the whites". No action was taken, mixed football became inevitable, and Tanti was the club’s top scorer for the next three seasons.

U is for... Umgeni Stars The Stars were one of four inaugural members – along with Pietermaritzburg County, Natal Wasps and Durban Alpha – of an all-white league established in Natal in 1882, the first in South Africa. Six more clubs joined the following year. The game then spread to Cape Town, particularly among the British military, and by the First World War was the predominant sport among the white working class, Indians and blacks.

V is for... Vuvuzela Xabi Alonso wants them banned because they’re "annoying" and "distracting" and BBC pundit Lee Dixon called them "quite irritating", but locals insist they’re an integral part of South African football culture. Sometimes called a lepatata, the metre-long plastic horns are said to originate from the kudu horns used to draw villagers to meetings, while fans blow them more vigorously in the final quarter of games, trying to kill off their opponents in accordance with the myth that baboons are killed by a lot of noise.

W is for... Wedding Jomo Sono is one of the greatest players in South Africa’s history, good enough to play in the NASL with New York Cosmos alongside Pele. But he is best known for an incident that happened on his wedding day. He’d arranged to miss Orlando Pirates’ game against Highlands North, but scheduled the wedding for the morning so he could listen to the game on the radio afterwards.

With the Pirates 2-0 down, his father-in-law joined him in the car outside the reception and, seeing how miserable his new son-in-law was, suggested Sono drive to the ground and play the second half. He did just that, and inspired his beloved Pirates to a 4-2 victory. Sono later bought Highlands, renaming them Jomo Cosmos.

X is for... XAs in ‘cross’. If a fan crosses his arms across his chest, it’s a safe bet he supports Orlando Pirates. The gesture began as a response to Kaizer Chiefs, whose logo features, perhaps oddly, a native American chief in full headdress raising his fingers in the peace sign. Chiefs fans adopted the signal, allowing them to identify each other across linguistic barriers, and Pirates responded with their own version drawn from the skull and crossbones motif on their badge.

Y is for... Yellow Card Collecting a booking was the only thing that went wrong for Pierre Issa in South Africa’s second game of the 1998 World Cup, a 1-1 draw against Denmark, which must have been a relief. In the first, a 3-0 defeat to France, the Marseille defender – on his club ground – had managed to score two own-goals and fluff South Africa’s best chance.

Z is for... Zurich The Swiss city has twice been the scene of great triumphs for South African football, and once for a great defeat. It was there in 1992 that FIFA voted to readmit South Africa to international competition, there that they were denied the right to host the 18th World Cup, and there again in 2004 it was decided that it should host the 19th. "I’ll buy all the FIFA executives first-class air tickets to heaven," said a rejoicing Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

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