Great Pirates Of The Past

Many stories pertaining to the glory days of football in South Africa go undocumented.  On the streets they are told.  When the right people are asked, the answers will come out but the stories still go largely untold.  Here is a look at five players who shaped Orlando Pirates back in the day.

Ephraim “Jomo” Sono

Regarded as not only the best player of his generation, but the best the country has ever produced.  The troublemaker had a talent matched by few.  Speaking to an old footy fan in the township, he remembers attending a game in which Sono was on song.  Bra Sugar saw “The Black Prince” pass the ball long and short with both feet, with the inside and outside of his feet.  He could look one way and pass the other, a lot like what Ronaldinho became famous for.  Sono was doing it 20 years before.  There was a point where stadiums would be filled just to see him play and he rarely disappointed.  Brazilian great Pele regards Sono as one of the best players he has ever played with.

Amos “Heel Extension” Mkhari

Popularised by his ability to pass the ball with his heel.  “Heel Extension” could do nothing wrong in the eyes of the Pirates faithful.  An urban myth exists that regards him as the only player who didn’t mind spending the entire first half turning and dribbling – passing the ball with his heel.  If the Buccaneers were on the attack, he’d turn his back and produce a through ball with his left heel.  One notable incident was during a cup final against archrivals Kazier Chiefs.  With the score locked at 1-1 and time running out good old Mkari in the centre circle turned this way and that way, waited for his players to run forward and produced a lengthy through pass with his back to the attack that left the crowd talking about “that pass” for days after the game.

Percy “Chippa” Moloi

Father to current Orlando Pirates assistant coach Tebogo Moloi.  He was a dribbling wizard, who struggled to move forward without jumping over the ball and swerving once or twice.  He is regarded as the first black player to score 100 professional goals.  During the height of his career he was occasionally referred to as South Africa’s Pele.  He graced professional football between the decade of 1960 and 70.  During this time he led the Sea Robbers’ attack.  The people of Tembisa remember him for one specific exhibition match.  He picked the ball up just over the halfway line, dribbled his way past four players then went around the goalkeeper.  He proceeded to turn his back with the ball, with the keeper still laying down and from outside the 18-yard box he hit the top corner of the net and walked back to the centre line as if nothing had happened.

Thomas “Zero My Hero” Johnson

Played for Bucs during Chippa Moloi’s generation.  He was deemed a no-nonsense defensive midfielder and possessed a passing range that made former French great Claude Makelele a household name.  “Zero”, as he was known in short formed part of the first group that moved to Kaizer Chiefs at its birth.  He would go on to be the first captain of the team and helped coach it with Doctor Khumalo’s father Pro.  The hostility between Chiefs and Pirates was born before these teams even got onto the same pitch with Chippa Moloi and friends coming to blows with Johnson and others at some point during this period.

Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba

Currently Bafana Bafana coach, Shakes played for Pirates during the 80s.  At one stage he captained the club.  He was regarded as a take-no-prisoners central defender and led from the back line.  Legend has it that during a match against white opponents and at the height of apartheid, Mashaba refused to shake the hand of the seating President of the country in front of a packed stadium and international media.  The match was suppose to be a PR exercise for the government of the day.  Guess no one had foreseen the captain’s actions.