Part three: Third decade (1968-1978)
After Moroka Swallows Big XV triumphs in the South African Soccer League (SASL), the 1968 campaign was a disappointment as Swallows flattered to deceive and eventually played second fiddle to arch rivals Orlando Pirates, who were crowned the 1968 National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) champions.
'Birds' win NPSL title!
In an effort to bring back the glory days, in 1969 players such as Irvin 'Pepe' Dire, John 'Special' Makhubu, Steve 'Brixton' Maseko, Moses 'Njilo Njilo' Maseko, Jonas 'Paradise' Sello, and Blessing 'Killer' Mngidi, were tasked with restoring the trophy-laden culture of the club's glorious past. There was an improvement in the team and they didn't go home empty-handed managing to win the NPSL title.
However, thereafter the NPSL was beset with administrative problems. Apart from such issues facing the league, disquiet was also growing among some of the top teams. The anger building up among these clubs burst open when they declared publicly that they would not take part in the league unless the contentious clauses were removed. The clubs argued that the 20 per cent deducted by South African Bantu Football Association (SABFA) for the travel fund was high. Clubs also opposed the ruling that players be paid R6 a game, saying this was too little. Given the fact that SABFA was an associate member of the Football Association of South Africa (FASA), there was a feeling among clubs that the new league was going to partly help finance the National Football League (NFL), FASA?s professional wing.
As a result, Moroka Swallows Big XV, Mangaung United, Pretoria Spar and Witbank Aces formed their own league in Meadowlands, but it only lasted for four months.
Swallows win major cups...
In 1970, Moroka Swallows Big XV didn't play in any league, but only featured in cup competitions. It was in that year that 'The Beautiful Birds' played what is arguably their best football in their history. They played in a Rogue Cup (aka Champions of Champions Cup) final against the now defunct Pimville United Brothers at Orlando Stadium, which earlier in the day fixtured Swallows against Orlando Pirates, and Kaizer Chiefs against the Pubs.
The 'Skom Boys', as Pubs were affectionately known in football circles, were in their most devastating form. The stadium was packed to capacity with some spectators flowing dangerously close to the touchline. The sheer majesty of Moroka Swallows Big XV, led by the evergreen Blessing 'Killer' Mgidi, John Special Makhubu, the late 'Swing Cralie' Masike, was matched by the boundless magic of George 'Brains' Mchunu, William 'Chris Rollaway', and the masters of the scissors-kick at the back Ndlovu, James 'Mebra' Qgosha and Johannes 'Yster' Khomane. The game went into recess with Swallows leading 3-0 with goals from the late 'Swing Carlie' Masike, John 'Special' Makhubu and Blessing 'Killer' Mgidi. In the second half, Pubs changed the course of the game in spectacular fashion, scoring three brilliant goals to reduce the deficit.
An amazing comeback!
No one could believe it. Three goals down with 15 minutes left, no one could have predicted such a dramatic comeback. But with some fans already moving towards the exit, and some anticipating extra-time, with a minute to go no one had reckoned on a blistering goal from the boot of Blessing 'Killer' Mgidi, which clinched the game for Moroka Swallows Big XV. After this winner, Swallows earned themselves a R1000.00 first prize and the hero of the day, 'Killer' walked away with the sports star of the week. Guess what the prize was? A pair of trousers worth R14 from a clothing company in Fordsburg.
That year, Swallows Big XV boasted Jimmy Bene in goals and their defence was manned by Jonas 'Paradise' Sello, Samson 'Chincha Soweto' Masuku, Danger Moloi and Mthunzi 'Shadow' Kota. In the middle they had the enterprising Mosenthal 'Njilo Njilo' Maseko, German 'Cutter' Kunene, the late Daniel 'Swing Carlie' Masike and the stylish Irvin 'Pepe' Dire. Completing the team was the heading specialist John 'Special' Makhubu, the phenomenally speedy John 'Buick' Makwati and Blessing 'Killer' Mgidi.
'Birds' lose to Chiefs, but?
Later in the year, Swallows Big XV lost 3-1 to Kaizer Chiefs in the semi-finals of the Stylo Cup, which also featured Pirates and Pubs. During that time, the game was in turmoil and frantic efforts were being made to rescue the league, but it was too late.
Sponsors pull out of NPSL...
As the controversy raged on, sponsors pulled out one by one and the matter was finally resolved in 1971, when SABFA held its biennial congress and Bethuel Morolo was ousted and replaced by George Thabe.
However, according to Blessing 'Killer' Mgidi, their battles with the NPSL were always at the heart of the problem. Moroka Swallows Big XV, together with clubs such as Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Pretoria Callies and Witbank Aces, realized that if they had to resolve part of their money problems, the NPSL had to be autonomous from SABFA. As matters stood in 1971, Sabfa's control over the NPSL was total. The action committee which controlled the NPSL did not have a single representative from the clubs, and the clubs resented this bitterly. As fights between Moroka Swallows Big XV (supported by other clubs) and the NPSL continued to threaten the stability of the game, it became obvious that concessions had to be made to the clubs. To appease them, Silvester Masinga (Big XV) and Aggripa Mbathani (Pirates) were appointed to the NPSL Management Committee (formerly Action Committee) in 1973. The clubs had a foothold in the NPSL. This was a step to the autonomy they were seeking and managed to quieten them for a while.
Swallows become a public company...
Off the field, the club was becoming a business and in 1971, Moroka Swallows became the first-ever soccer team to register as a public company. That same year, it was the first to receive an official sponsorship when Teljoy began its association with the team.
On the filed of play, the NPSL games and competitions were now a contest of supremacy between Moroka Swallows Big XV, Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs, Zulu Royals and Mangaung United, to mention but a few. The period from 1973-1978 must rank as the golden age for Moroka Swallows Big XV. Swallows in this era, former player Alfred 'KK' Lentsoane says with disarming honesty, could take on giants like Manchester United or AC Milan. Perhaps this is a little exaggerated but it emphasizes the prowess of the club in that period. This was the time when the club?s games against Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates were titanic battles.
'Birds' continue to win major titles..
Moroka Swallows won the Ohlssons Challenge in 1974, the BP Top 16 in 1975 and the Champs of Champs in 1978.
"The 1975 BP Top 16 final against Kaizer Chiefs was as epic event. It was a tussle of prestige," recalled 'KK' Lentsoane.
He added: "When pros and cons were weighed, Chiefs were tipped to walk it. The game was a two leg final. We played the first leg in Durban, and Jairzinho, one of the greatest players Brazil has ever produced, was in the country at the time as a guest player for Chiefs.
"Most football fans had already written us off in that final. They were terrified and believed that Chiefs, who also had great local stars, would tear us apart. You must remember that Chiefs were heavily armed with players such as the late Patrick 'Ace' Ntsoelengoe, Herman 'Pele' Blashcke, Petrus 'Ten Ten' Nzimande, Michael 'Bizzah' Dlamini, Zacharia 'Maria Maria' Lamola, the late Ariel 'Pro' Khungoane and Abednigo 'Shaka' Ngcobo.
"However, Jairzinho was not part of the Chiefs team on the day. He sat that match on the bench, probably to try and assess the Swallows team. Noble 'General' Maja and Andries 'Six Mabone' Maseko scored the two goals for us and Chiefs? solitary goal came from 'Shaka' Ngcobo. We had a one goal lead over Chiefs going into the second leg at Orlando Stadium. We went into that game without our coach, Mario Tuani, who had to miss the game because of family problems back in Chile. This time, Chiefs had the Brazilian Jairzhino in the starting line-up. I can still remember how Jonas 'Paradise' Sello marked him out of the game.
"That day, both teams pulled out all the stops, but after the final whistle we emerged as 5-3 winners on aggregate to lift the trophy. Our second-leg goals came from Ernest Kamba and a brace from Andries Maseko. This was Swallows at its best. The magic of our players was in full bloom. In goals we had the safe hands of the late Welcome 'Star Black' Jama, our rearguard consisted of Lazarus 'Junior' Nhleko, James 'Akulalwa' Mabena, Jonas 'Paradise' Sello and George 'Mastermind Kgobe. In the middle, we had our master schemer, Daniel 'Vader' Mophosho, Zimbabwean import Gearge Shaya, myself and Noble 'General' Maja. To complete the side, we had Andries 'Six Mabone' Maseko, another Zimbabwean import Ernest Kamba, Edward 'Lovemore' Mabaso and John 'Special' Makhubu. What an awesome team!"
Moment of Sorrow
One year after clinching the BP Top 16, one of the winning team stalwarts, Lazarus 'Junior' Nhleko, died tragically in a game against Bantu Callies at Sharpeville stadium after colliding with Bantu Callies striker, Phillip 'Chesa' Sibanda.
By Walter Mabeba - Former Moroka Swallows defender
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