Today marks the 20th anniversary of Orlando Pirates’ 1995 African Cup of Champions Clubs triumph in Abidjan. Jerry Sikhosana was a key man for the Buccaneers en route to the final, scoring in the semi-final before netting the all important winner that cemented his name in the history books as Pirates became the first South African team to win the continental competition. In this interview, Donahue Adams asks the Sea Robbers legend to share with us his experience of that wonderful journey two decades ago.
Donahue Adams: Jerry, I just want us to talk about the road to the final and your experience. Tell us, how it feels to be the scorer of that historic goal that won Orlando Pirates their first continental title?
Jerry Sikhosana: It was great, even though this is an understatement. It was a massive goal for the team and even after 20 years it still means a lot to me. It was the goal that put me on the map.
DA: Is this your favorite goal of all-time?
JS: In terms of history, yes it is. I scored a few massive goals locally as well, especially in the derby against Chiefs.
DA: On the road to the final of the competition, Orlando Pirates employed three different coaches; Mike Makaab, Joe Frickelton and Ronald Mkhandiwere. How did this affect the teams preparations for the final?
JS: It was always going to be difficult and we didn’t anticipate the changes. I arrived under Mike Makaab but wasn’t eligible to play in the first round of the competition. I only played later on but what I can say is that both Mike Makaab and Joe Frickelton were good coaches. They believed in the players, whereas Mkhandiwere was always around as an assistant coach. He was like a brother to us, so it was easy to go and play under him. I just made sure that I always worked hard and did my best for the team.
DA: You were a part of an Orlando Pirates team that consisted of South African football legends and had to compete with the likes of Marc Bachelor, Marks Maponyane and the rising star at the time, Bruce Ramokhadi. What was it like competing against them for a place in the starting XI?
JS: It was always difficult, they were great players and we all wanted to play.
DA: What do think made you stand out from them that allowed you to start both legs of the semi-final and the final?
JS: I always worked harder, showed great energy in training and during games and just kept running, always looking for chances to score.
DA: Pirates cruised through the first round of the competition beating Eleven Men in Flight of Swaziland but had to fight for the victory in the second round against BCC of Nigeria. All the matches from the quarter-final to the end were nail biters. What can you recall from these matches?
JS: A lot! I can remember a lot. Against Mbilinga we lost. We had the best defence at the time and were the better side on the day but we couldn’t score. The away goal didn’t mean anything, we just wanted to win the game. In Ghana, against Express, I didn’t have a good game. I hurt my knee ligament and was struggling but the team showed great character.
DA: What was it like travelling in those days?
JS: Transportation is much better now, especially in terms of flights. We used to be away for a week and it was difficult being away from our families. Then Again the team I was in was a family of its own. (Bernard) Lushozi was the glue of the team, very funny guy. He always made jokes and told stories. He was like a father figure and kept the team together.
DA: Who did you have to share a room with? Were you allocated a partner or could you choose?
JS: We could choose. I mostly stayed with Helman Mkhalele but shared a room with Williams Okpara for the away legs of the quarter-final and the final.
DA: You walk out onto the field on the back of a 2-2 draw at home and you are 90 minutes away from making history. At half-time the score is 0-0. Can you remember what the coach said to you at the interval?
JS: Very vividly. I know we did not enter the dressing room. There was something funny on the door and that the chairman, Mr Irvin Khoza was there as well. The coach told us that we are doing well. If we don’t concede we can go home feeling proud. He encouraged us and showed a lot of belief.
DA: Mark Fish clears the ball up field and you start racing towards goal. What are you thinking at that moment in time?
JS: I switched off my mind and tried to forget that we were under pressure. The team knew that I was always willing to chase any ball that came my way. I remember shifting to the wing. I was always strong cutting in from the wing and shooting at goal. I saw two defenders. I moved towards the sweeper and made as if I was going to challenge for the ball but pulled away at the last second. As the ball fell for me, I took one look at goal and had a go with my left and I scored. The stadium was quiet. It was as if someone had died.
DA: We are into the final minutes of the match, what is going through your mind, knowing that if you concede a goal it could change everything?
JS: We had two chances to extend our lead. (Vincent) Sokhela had (a shot) and the other Helman didn’t pass the ball and I was open, but we believed more after scoring and we played our game.
DA: The final whistle blows. You’ve lifted the cup and it is time to return back home to celebrate. Can you remember how the victory was celebrated?
JS: I remember that Asec did not want to collect their second-placed medals. They did not even go to the dressing room. They were sad. When we got into the bus, our bus was thrown with stones and we had to be guided by a contingent of police. There was also a civil war taking place in Ivory Coast that year. I remember the hotel staff treating us well when we returned and being given shirts that had “Champions” or something like that written on it. When we arrived at OR Tambo, we took routes we had never taken before at the airport and it was amazing. People were chanting my name. I couldn’t believe it! We were welcomed by SAFA officials and we had brought the entire South African football community together. It meant a lot, the difference we made. I can’t forget it.
DA: I appreciate your time.
JS: Thanks bra.