Johannesburg – My earliest contact with South African professional football was through iwayilense (wireless), as we called radio those days.
I still recall how fascinated we would be as whippersnappers when the voice of Elijah “Thetha” Masombuka or that of Bhekisisa Kunene came crackling through the frequency modulation (FM) wave on Saturday and Sunday afternoons on what was then known as Radio Bantu, later to be Radio Zulu and today Ukhozi FM.
By this time, we would all – young and old, mostly male – be huddled around the small box to follow the fortunes of Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows Ltd, Moroka Swallows Babes, Pretoria Bantu Callies, Witbank Black Aces, AmaZulu, Mangaung United, Vaal Professionals, Welkom Real Hearts, Real Katlehong City, Durban City All Blacks, Dalton Brothers, Pimville United Brothers and Lamontville Golden Arrows.
The then local black football heroes – remember, the game was at that time fractured along racial lines: white, coloured, Indian and black – such as Kaizer “Chincha Guluva” Motaung, Ephraim “Jomo” Sono, Lucas “Masterpieces” Moripe, Dinini “Pule” Mwandla, Welington Wesi, Alfred “Ace” Mgedeza, Percy “Chippa” Moloi, Cedric “Sugar Ray” Xulu, Henry “Black Cat” Cele and Benjamin Mfundisi – came to life through this medium.
We used to paint imaginary pictures of these larger-than-life personalities and sometimes were assisted by the pictures we saw in publications such as Bantu World, African Soccer Mirror and Sharp Shoot to put faces to the names.
One of the matches that still stands out in my memory, which I followed through the wireless, was the 1975 Chevrolet Champion of Champions Cup final between Chiefs and the all-white Hellenic.
Amakhosi were given an embarrassing 4-0 pasting at Hartleyvale Stadium in Cape Town in the first leg, but turned the tables in front of a capacity crowd of 35 000 at the Rand Stadium, winning 2-1 to become the first black club to beat a white side in South African football history.
That victory was claimed and celebrated by almost every black South African.
However, it did not come without controversy, as writer Euan Rice-Coates recently pointed out: “At the 20-minute mark, the music spiralled to a crescendo. Hellenic had burst beyond the Kaizer Chiefs defence and planted the ball into the back of the net. The Chiefs players looked amongst each other, bemused, and as their arms shot into the air, the same plea etched itself on to each and every one of their faces. Offside? The referee, Jack Taylor, white and British, waved away the disputations.
“Offside or not, chaos was ensured. Obscenities fired between open mouths, missiles flashed between spectators, and punches landed like thunderclaps in the night. The match was very nearly abandoned, but this was inconceivable, the Chiefs argued.
“The spectators were hungry for football and must be seated. Taylor was inclined to agree and so, 25 minutes on, with the stadium partially placated, play resumed.
“Kaizer Chiefs dusted themselves down, closed their ears to the world, and fixed their eyes on the only thing that could defeat the men lined up opposite – the ball in the centre of the pitch. Seventy minutes on, the scoreboard, a beacon of fact, displayed the numbers. Hellenic 1-2 Kaizer Chiefs. Where was the script now?
“Hellenic had the prize money, but Kaizer Chiefs were the real victors. For the first time, a black club had defeated a white one in South Africa.
“All across the nation, black citizens celebrated the victory as a personal form of redemption; apartheid could be broken, and football had proven it no less – the white man was not undefeatable.”
It was with these memories that my heart bled when the SABC and Premier Soccer League (PSL) could not reach an agreement to have last weekends matches broadcast on radio.
I thought of all the security guards one usually sees nestled close to a radio on match day, long-distance truck drivers, people at funerals who keep dashing to their cars for score updates and those folks in remote rural areas for whom television is a luxury they cannot even fathom.
I celebrated like a kid when I heard that the two warring factions had sorted out their spat on Monday. While driving home on Tuesday, I could follow the match in which Bidvest Wits decimated Amakhosi 3-1. This reminded me of the 1978 Mainstay Cup final in which they triumphed 3-2 in a thriller. This one was on television, though.
Did it really have to come to a weekend of football radio blackout?