WAS it just a strange coincidence that SA football legend John “Shoes” Moshoeu took his final breath at or around 3:PM – a time when most football matches kick-off? LUCAS LEDWABA pays tribute to a legend

IT may just be a strange coincidence that John “Shoes”Moshoeu died at 3:PM, for many years the official kick-off time for afternoon football matches in South Africa.

In a different time, life in South Africa’s townships would often come to a standstill at this hour, 3PM, for this was when people huddled around battery operated wireless radios and TV sets, or pack into stadiums to worship at the altar of football heroes like Shoes.

So when I read his agent Glyn Binkin’s tweet that the legend had passed on at this very hour on Tuesday 21 April 2015, I was left wondering if the gods had perhaps conspired in deciding to recall the former Bafana Bafana star at this very important hour of the game he loved and played with an unmatched passion throughout his life.

Perhaps it was just nature’s way, but deep down, I suspect it was the football god’s way to remind the public that this was a man who not only played the game with distinction; but lived for it.

News of his passing took me back in time, 16 January 1993 to a buzzing, packed FNB Stadium, just before that significant hour 3PM.

Bafana Bafana, South Africa’s senior national men’s football team was taking on the Super Eagles of Nigeria in a crucial qualifier for the USA ’94 World Cup.

The previous year, South Africa had been readmitted to FIFA following a lengthy ban imposed in reaction to apartheid. The years of isolation had taken a toll on the local game, which saw Bafana Bafana become the whipping boys of African football, with successive 4-1 and 4-0 drubbings by neighbours Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

But the mood on that afternoon at FNB Stadium was one of renewed hope and expectation in the team, following the appointment of Augusto Palacios as coach after the sacking of Stan Screamer Tshabalala.

The team had spent weeks in camp, being drilled by Palacios, the Peruvian born coach who had played World Cup qualification football for his country of birth in the 70s.

But there was another reason for the enthusiasm of the fans. Shoes. He had been out injured with a broken leg towards the end of 1992 while turning out for his club Giant Blackpool in a Castle League National Soccer League game.

He had played for Bafana in ’92, even scoring a goal in a friendly game against Botswana in Gaborone. But the game against Nigeria was his first official game back after injury. South African football fans, eager for a win, were upbeat about Shoes’s return.

Even long before kick-off, they were madly shouting out his name. And as 3PM beckoned, the cheers grew ever louder, Shoooeeesss!Shoooeees! Shoeeessss!!

Bafana Bafana did not win that day. Shoes did not score either. But his performance in the 0-0 draw against the giants of African football, marked his arrival on the international football scene. Even as they filed out of the stadium, the fans continued shouting, screaming, Shoeessss!

Four years earlier on a chilly Easter Monday at Orlando Stadium in 1989, I had watched Shoes help his club Giant Blackpool, demolish the mighty Iwisa Kaizer Chiefs in a 4-1 victory.

It was Blackpool’s first season in top flight football, and already in their opening matches, they had humbled established powerhouses of theNSL, Moroka Swallows, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns.

Their fearless, free flowing brand of fast attacking football immediately earned them lots of admirers in the local game.

But it was the jersey number 10, Shoes, scrawny and nimble footed with a neatly cropped French cut hairstyle, who stood out in the exciting and youthful attacking line up comprising Fani Madida, Geelbooi Masango, Harold Ellis, Benedict Lekopa, Jury Bantwana, with a rearguard manned by the robust Gavin Lane and Andrew Ramsden.

I remember sitting with my older brother in the ramshackle wooden stands on the western side at Orlando Stadium before the match, Chiefs fans, spurred on by the club’s number 1 fan, Mguyo Temane, confidently singing how they were going to run over Blackpool, who they referred to as young boys.

Re bapala le bashanyanaaa…bashanyanaaa iyoooo, they sang, with Mguyo spurring them on with his battery operated horn which reverberated throughout the stadium.

In those days, Chiefs, boasting the likes of Ace Khuse, Chippa Molatedi, Albert Bwalya, Mike Mangena, Chacklas Shongwe and Marks Maponyane, were invincible. They boasted the biggest following in the country and were the cup kings of SA football.

And with Blackpool being the new kids on the block, it was expected Chiefs would easily run them over. But it was not to be. Blackpool, clad in an all white strip, led by Shoes in the heart of midfield, made them look less than ordinary, and it was no surprise that by early second half, the new kids on the block were three goals up.

Chippa Molatedi scored a consolation goal from the penalty spot, giving the Chiefs fans some hope of recovery.

But late in the game, Shoes scored with a cracker of a shot from the edge of the penalty area, making it 4-1. It was as if someone had given an order to the Chiefs fans to rise and file out of the stadium.

Chiefs had not lost by such a margin in a long time since a few season earlier when they were beaten
5-1 by Amazulu at Durban’s King’s Park Stadium.

Four years after leading Blackpool to the convincing win against Chiefs, that Number 10, Shoes joined Kaizer Chiefs for a record transfer fee of R150 000.

Shoes had by then become a sensation, his exploits at Blackpool attracting the interest of the big guns, with Pirates even going as far as asking its supporters to club together in a bid to entice the rising star into their fold.

But he didn’t stay long there, moving a few months later to Turkey to join Genclebirligi. He spent a record 10 seasons there, also starring for top side Fernebhace before returning home in 2002, to rewrite the Premier Soccer League records.

By then he was already 37 years of age, giving players half his age a hard time with a combination of experience and his unmatched natural intelligence and football skills. He inspired Chiefs to two league titles and knockout trophies.

When Chiefs employed German born Ernst Middendorp following the departure of Ted Dumitru, Shoes found himself in limbo, much to the chagrin of the fans. But his time at Chiefs was up, and he moved to Amazulu where he played until the age of 42, setting a record as the oldest player ever to grace the PSL. Not only that, his record as the oldest player to ever score a goal in the PSL, aged 41 years and 11 months, still stands.

Shoes continued to defy age after his retirement from professional football, playing on in the junior ranks until two years ago, aged 47.

In 2010, I watched him play on dusty fields in Tembisa, in the annual Philly’s Games. It was quite humbling, to see this man, who had played at two World Cups (1998 and 2002), a who had played in three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and won it once; playing football with the passion and enthusiasm of a child, on dusty pitches against players many of whom were not born by the time he was crowned OK League Player of the Year in 1987.

I envied those who were on the same pitch as this legend, wondering if the players who came up against him and played alongside him, appreciated what it meant to be in that position.

I imagined the inspiration they must have drawn from this opportunity to rub shoulders with Shoes, a man who in a different time, ranked among the country’s football gods.

Even at these games that drew thousands of fans, the fans loved him still, shouting out his name each time he touched the ball and running to shake his hand after matches, Shoes, Shoes and Company!

I remember after a game on one particularly bad pitch near the hostel in Tembisa, the legend smiling like a little boy as he walked to his Porsche, mobbed by adoring fans. He looked just happy to be playing the game, to be able to bring a smile to the multitudes who often came to watch him.

Although even the young men that he coached and played with treated him awe and respect, he remained just one of them, never appearing to be superior to them.

In the village of GaMadiba in Mashashane near Polokwane, Limpopo where Shoes was born on 18 December 1965, young people who had never met him, spoke in admiration of this man. Even from far away Johannesburg where he grew up and lived, his inspiration seemed to rub off on the football mad youth who never miss a chance to mention their connection to Shoes.

If a man born in this village without proper fields and many of the basics like running water and street lights could make it into top flight football, they too, they believed, could make make it to Kaizer Chiefs and Europe and Bafana Bafana. Hopefully, each time the clock strikes 3PM on weekends, many youths will take to the football fields in the townships, towns, cities, villages and shanty towns, to emulate the life and times of a man who lived the game and lived for it, Shoeeeesssssss!

#this article was first published in April 2015

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