The story of the 'Beautiful Birds'

Volkswagen is set to take Moroka Swallows to the top of South Africa?s national game. How did it all begin for one of Soweto?s original soccer clubs?

The story of Moroka Swallows goes back to 1947, in the Moroka Emergency Camp, a township in Soweto. However, the exact history of this Soweto soccer club is still disputed today.

Soccer journalist Walter Mabeba, in his Golden Oldies column on the Moroka Swallows website, credits Lawrence 'Rhee' Mbanya as the founder of the football team that became Moroka Swallows.

"At that time, Moroka was a shanty town," Mbanya is quoted as saying. "There were no amenities, and the only entertainment was football. We bandied together a number of players, and agreed to name the team Moroka Sweepers, but my brother shot that name down, and the team was named Moroka Swallows. He argued that swallows fly higher and conquer further than homely sweepers.

"The first games were played in Moroka?s alleys," Mbanya reminisces. "When we got a chance, we would turn out against any team that wanted a game, often substituting for clubs that failed to turn up for their matches.

"Those early Swallows scored their goals with bare feet. Only when a sympathetic club, the Zulu Messengers, lent us boots were we properly equipped. But the Zulu Messengers would leave us stranded every time they had a game to play."

In the 1950s, a split occurred within the club, which then formed two camps - the Moroka Swallows Babes, which disappeared in the 1980s, and the Moroka Swallows Big 15, which continued to what the team is today.

Together with Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, Moroka Swallows was one of the original three Soweto football clubs.

Up until the beginning of the 1990s, their home stadiums were Soweto-based, playing out of Moroka Jabavu Stadium, Bantu Social Centre, Kliptown Stadium and Orlando West Stadium. The 1950s and 60s were a successful time for the club, winning the 1953 League Championship and the 1954 Robinson Cup.

In 1956, the club took the Transvaal Challenge Trophy after smashing the formidable Orlando Pirates, and won the Robinson Cup again twice in succession in 1958 and 1959.

The team toured Natal in 1960, beating Natal Giants, African Wanderers and Durban Bush Bucks. However, the team's greatest-ever achievement came in 1965, when they won the South African League title.

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 also the first to receive an official sponsorship, when Teljoy began its association with the club.

The decade between 1982 and 1992 was a successful one for the team, winning the Mainstay Cup in 1983, the Bobsave Cup in 1989 and 1991, and the Iwisa Charity Tournament in 1992, but the team took a dip between 1995 and 2000, with poor on-field performance and declining spectators in the stands.

Today, the Beautiful Birds are one of the oldest and most prestigious soccer clubs in South Africa, having lasted for the best part of 60 years. The famous slogan 'Don't follow me, follow The Birds' dates back to 1978.

Volkswagen South Africa began its sponsorship of Moroka Swallows in August 2005, with the aim of growing awareness in the traditionally soccer-supporting market, and supporting one of the country's favourite soccer brands.

Volkswagen has also purchased a First Division franchise, creating Bay United as a grassroots development project, with the view to creating a professional Premier Soccer League (PSL) team for Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage - the home of Volkswagen of South Africa.

Since the start of the sponsorship, the club and Volkswagen have been working around the clock to take one of the country's oldest and most recognisable soccer brands back to the top of South Africa's national game.

A clear podium strategy has been developed for the 2006/07 PSL season, which started in August, ensuring the club is focused on winning - both on and off the field.

This has, in a short period of time, shown great results, with the first team finishing fourth in the PSL 2005/06 season and winning the coveted award for the Most Balanced Team in the league.

The Moroka Swallows ladies and youth teams also dominated their respective leagues, and have gone on to finish in the top three of all the national tournaments in which they have participated.

The club's management and technical team marked the end of the 2005/06 season with the biggest PSL player clear-out.

This resulted in 15 players being released from the club, the signing of 10 new players, and the promotion of three youngsters to the first team squad.

Among the new signings are seasoned professionals like ex-Kaizer Chief?s Captain Patrick Mabedi (Malawi), and established internationals like Songwe Chalwe (Zambia) and Sibisuso Dlamini (Swaziland).

Leading the South African charge are the 2010 Bafana Bafana hopefuls Bevan Fransman and Sibisuso Themba. Add to this the unknown and very exciting qualities of Evans Gwekwerere from Dynamos in Zimbabwe, and Moroka Swallows has assembled a formidable squad leading into the new season.

The pre-season for Moroka Swallows has been a very exciting and successful one, with the team visiting Volkswagen's production facility in Uitenhage and undergoing pre-season training in Port Elizabeth.

The team competed against Volkswagen's Mvela League team Bay United in the inaugural Volkswagen Challenge Cup, and the team continued their preparations by winning the Mangaung Cup in Bloemfontein, beating Kaizer Chiefs in the semi-finals and Bloemfontein Celtic in the final.

While the team has been busy on the field, management has been busy off the field appointing new Security Manager, Eddie Caluza, to improve safety and security on match days.

The club's image has also been addressed, with the appointment of Sello Maugane as Communications Manager, who is responsible for driving the next generation of Moroka Swallows fans with a fresh, dynamic youth strategy.

The 2006/2007 season brings some exciting firsts, with the official launch of the Moroka Swallows new supporters' club, the Swallows Kids Club, and one lucky fan will drive home in the one-of-a-kind silver 'Swallow' Citi Rhythm. All this and more promises a pulsating football season. Bring on the league!

Quick facts:

Moroka Swallows were the first soccer club to:
- wear a full uniform in 1954
- pay its players, starting in 1958
- join the black professional league in 1961
- become registered as a public company in 1971
- receive official sponsorship from Teljoy, also in 1971.

Did you know?
The first ball used by Moroka Swallows was owned by J 'Ntsimbi' Gumede in 1947.
Moroka Swallows? famous slogan ?Don?t follow me, follow The Birds? dates back to 1978.
Louis Luyt (previous head of SA rugby) once owned part of the club.

Laduma for Volkswagen and Moroka Swallow:

Moroka Swallows finished fourth in the 2005/06 Premier Soccer League (PSL).
Striker Mame Niang won PSL?s top scorer for the 2005/06 season.
Moroka Swallows claimed the Most Balanced Team award at the annual Castle Premiership awards this year.
The team qualified for the semi-finals of the 2006/07 Supa 8.

Article published courtesy of Volkswagen magazine and was written by Wendy Pos.

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Saturday, April 27
Castle Premiership:
Swallows v Maritzburg
Kick-off: 3pm
Venue: Germiston Stadium

April 21
Castle Premiership:
Drew 0-0 v AmaZulu
Venue: Germiston Stadium

April 8
Castle Premiership
Won 3-1 v Celtic
Venue: Seisa Ramabodu

April 1
Castle Premiership
Drew 1-1 v Chiefs
Venue: Germiston Stadium

March 11
Castle Premiership
Won 2-0 v Wits
Venue: Bidvest Stadium

March 3
Castle Premiership
Won 1-0 v Arrows
Venue: Germiston Stadium

What dou you think of Swallows' performance against Chiefs?

We could have done better