history† / 60 year Anniversary
Don’t follow me, follow the Birds!
Part 1: The First decade (1947 - 1957)
With 60 years of greatness being celebrated this year, but no official history book detailing the epic journey, the management of Moroka Swallows together with VW, the official sponsor of the club, have decided that it is time to document the history and, in so doing, honour the pioneers of this great club, Moroka Swallows.
For 60 years, the story of Moroka Swallows FC has lived in the hearts and minds of its founding fathers and loyal supporters. Tales shared among old friends over dinner, fond memories revisited over a couple of drinks and warm laughter have ensured that the roots of this club have remained strong. While there can be no better place for this marvellous history to live than in the souls of its custodians, it is now time for the next generation of Moroka Swallows supporters to learn about their proud heritage. For the first time, the oral history of this famous club will become a written history. Moroka Swallows has entrusted Soccer-Laduma to tell the story and we will make every effort to do right by everyone who has made Moroka Swallows what it is today. However, as we piece together the Moroka Swallows story, we encourage Swallows supporters and Soccer-Laduma readers to let us know of their own stories and experiences that have helped shape the history of the Beautiful Birds …
When we came across one of the founding fathers of Moroka Swallows, Strike Makgatho, seated on a tiny bench in his backyard in Naledi, Soweto, he seemed tired and ready for an afternoon nap. However, his eyes lit up when we sounded him out on a subject close to his heart – Moroka Swallows FC. Born in 1922, in Bolobedu, Pietersburg, Makgatho moved to Alexandra Township, where he played football for Alexandra Rangers, before relocating to Masakeng, Moroka in 1946.
“Football was my life. I’ve been in love with the game from the tender age of eight. I wanted to unearth talent and watch the youngsters displaying their skills, and I was ready to spend every last cent I owned on that vision,” says the proud looking 85-year-old Makgatho. “Ja, those were the days, but things have not been all smooth sailing for Moroka Swallows. Like real birds, we weathered many a storm.”
Makgatho, a taxi business man by then, used his own money to finance the team.
“We didn’t buy our kit from the sport shops, our kit was tailor-made, and the first ball that we used belonged to the late Jerimiah ‘Ntsimbi’ Gumede,” Makgatho remembers.
But before there was any kit, before the supporters came to love Moroka Swallows, before a name for the team was even picked, there was just a vision …
How the dream was born
The sight of a group of boys kicking a tennis ball around is very common in the townships of South Africa. This was what the late Johnny ‘Walker’ Kubeka, Ishmael Lesolang and Strike Makgatho would always see when passing by the shacks of the shantytown known as Moroka Jabavu in Soweto. Makgatho concurs, “Everywhere we looked, we saw a barefoot boy juggling with a tennis ball or playing in a game on the streets.”
This is why and how Moroka Swallows was born in 1947. Yes, 60 years ago, because of the passion that flowed through the veins of every young boy ever to kick a ball, and the joy it gave to those boys during a period in South Africa’s history where there was not too much to be happy about, a decision was taken to form a team to harness this passion and give it a stage. Those behind its formation, Strike Makgatho and company, could not have predicted that they were about to give birth to what would become one of the country’s foremost teams.
How Swallows got its name
The trio began the process of handpicking the young boys who would mature into fine young players and put the side on the map. One of those young boys was Carlton Moloi, whom they first spotted displaying some fancy footwork in a pair of knickerbockers! Once there were enough boys to make up a full team, they left it to the boys to find a name for the team they were forming. Though some claim the name of the team was decided by the toss of a coin, the very same Carlton Moloi tells Soccer-Laduma otherwise, “Someone came up with the name ‘Sweepers’ and it was almost accepted but then somebody came up with ‘Swallows’. He argued Swallows that fly higher and conquer further than homely Sweepers. The argument was so convincing that the name ‘Moroka Swallows’ came to stay.”
Getting a game
With the name decided and the boys raring to go, game time was needed. Not being registered for any league in those early days meant that the first games played by Moroka Swallows were in the alleys and side streets of Moroka. They would turn out against any team that wanted a game, even though at that stage many of them had to play barefoot. “We just went to the Moroka Jabavu Township Ground and took every chance of a game that was offered. We got most of our game time substituting for clubs that failed to turn up for their league matches,” says Carlton Moloi.
The first league campaign
In 1947, this group of unknown young boys who called themselves Moroka Swallows began their first league campaign in the Moroka Jabavu League. Soccer administrators at the time dismissed the team as one-game wonders and didn’t think the team would last the season. Many fans who had heard about the exciting style of the team and some who had seen the team play exhibition games believed that what they were seeing was too good to last. But Swallows were soon to show all their detractors that they were for real and swiftly became the most feared team in the league. Having dispatched local opposition such as Rockville Hungry Lions, Mighty Greens, Rangers and Moroka Naughty Boys, the young Moroka Swallows team joined the Orlando Football Association to meet stiffer opposition …