Don't follow me, follow the Birds!
By 1978, Moroka Swallows had firmly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in South African football. Having won the Champs of Champs Trophy in 1978 they had their sights firmly set on swelling their reputation as they headed towards the ?80s. Former Swallows player Walter Mabeba picks up the story...
Part 4: The fourth decade (1979-1988)
'Big Daddy' motivates the players:
From 1979, with the late Jack Sello as Chairman, Moroka Swallows continued to be regarded as one of the Soweto Big Three. The late Sello was one of the best ever South African football administrators. He was surrounded by other great administrators at Swallows like Sylvester Masinga, the late David 'Pine' Chabeli, the late Elijah 'Boy Baard' Nhlapho and Abe Machele. There wasn?t any money in the game, but 'Big Daddy', as Jack was affectionately known, somehow always made sure his players were satisfied regarding their salaries.
More Cup success:
Sello?s actions motivated the players, and it came as no surprise when Moroka Swallows lifted the 1979 BP Top 8, after beating archrivals, Orlando Pirates. "We played the first leg in Durban (KwaMashu), and beat Pirates 3-0, with goals from Frederick 'Congo' Malebane, Daniel 'Vader' Mophosho and Alfred 'KK' Lentsoane. Unfortunately we lost 2-1 in the second leg at Orlando stadium, but emerged 4-2 winners on aggregate to lift the prestigious trophy," says former Swallows midfielder Finky Sekete.
The age of the 'Massacres':
Between 1980 and 1982, the mighty Moroka Swallows spread their wings even further. The Dube Birds were at their most menacing and could hold their own against any team in the country. The great Swallows players from that era were known as the 'Massacres' because almost all their surnames started with the letter 'M'.
The side was fiery with players like Andries 'Six Mabone' Maseko, Frederick 'Congo' Malebane, Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba, Trott 'Trapper' Moloto, Joel 'Ace' Mnini, Jimmy 'Music Man' Mahlangu, Simon 'Ox' Mahlangu, Aubrey 'The Great' Makgopela , Norman 'Goalpower' Makhehla and Daniel 'Vader' Mophosho. At one stage, they went 15 games without a coach but still performed miracles.
They went on to reach the final of the 1980 Mainstay Cup, which they lost 3-2 to Orlando Pirates at Orlando Stadium. To reach the final, Swallows played to a 5-all draw with Kaizer Chiefs in the semi-final and beat them 2-1 in the replay. Swallows went on to reach the 1982 BP Cup final, the 10th anniversary of the tournament, but were hammered 7-2 on aggregate by Kaizer Chiefs. While the Swallows players were fantastic, the lack of silverware in the trophy cabinet was of great concern!
The two year wait is finally over:
In 1983, the 'Beautiful Birds' managed to annex the Mainstay Cup, holding off the challenge from a brave Witbank Aces, courtesy of a last minute goal by Joel 'Ace' Mnini. The two year wait for a major trophy was finally over. Not much was achieved in 1984 and it proved a tumultuous time for South African soccer. As 1985 rolled around the face of football in South Africa was about to change...
The formation of the NSL:
In 1985, most clubs in the NPSL wanted more autonomy and rallied around Kaizer Motaung when he challenged the late George Thabe, the Chairman of the NPSL for that autonomy. Several clubs had already taken the decision to secede and form a new league if Thabe did not meet their demands. That is exactly what happened and all the NPSL sides left to form the National Soccer League (NSL). The NPSL continued to exist but in the shadow of its now wealthier, more popular counterpart.
The formation of the NSL was not as easy and trouble-free as it may have appeared. Pirates and Swallows were reluctant to leave the NPSL. It was a touch-and-go situation. Without Pirates and Swallows, the future of the new league didn't look bright. It was during this period of great uncertainty that tragedy struck.
While Swallows was still dithering, four of its senior players, Frederick 'Congo' Malebane, Aubrey 'The Great' Makgopela, Joel 'Ace' Mnini and Aaron 'Roadblock' Makhathini left the club to launch a new club, the Mighty Birds, and immediately became affiliated with the NPSL. Swallows was devastated by the defection of these top players.
It was being whispered in the townships that if they did not disband this new club and return to Swallows, their days were numbered. This was a threat the four took seriously, but tragedy still struck. On April 12 1985, 'Roadblock' Makhathini was gunned down in front of his home in Pimville soon after returning from a practice session. Two Swallows officials, David 'Pine' Chabeli, the Chairman at the time, and James Ngidi were arrested but later discharged.
The 'Godfather' gets things back on track:
Despite the tragedy, the Birds went from strength to strength, feathering their nest with some top quality youngsters. Under the tutelage of Mario 'Godfather' Tuani, and around senior players such as the late Thomas Hlongwane, Rodney Bush, William Makhura, Sullie Bhamjee, Andries Chitja and Goona Padayachee, Swallows introduced youngsters like Andries Mpondo, Bennet Lushozi, 'Master' Motlkoung, Ronnie Mashego, Walter Mabeba, Larry Parks, Paul Motaung, the late Aubrey 'The Beast' Seboko, and Lingsford Setlalekgosi. The eccentric Tuani possessed the ability to motivate players and get them to play as a team. Things were looking up, and in that season, Moroka Swallows reached the semi-final of the Mainstay Cup, but were unfortunate to lose to Bloemfontein Celtic.
The following season saw an improvement in Swallows' league form, and the results Tuani achieved at Swallows were encouraging. However, there was a misunderstanding between David Chabeli and Mario Tuani, and the latter stepped down.
Rodney Bush at the helm:
Chabeli appointed Rodney Bush as player-coach, and the former member of the first South African Multiracial XI in 1977 did not disappoint. He led the new crop of youngsters to the first Cup Final of their professional careers. Former Moroka Swallows player 'Master' Motloung says he will always cherish the 1986 JPS Cup Final, "It was my first in the elite league, and against a team of Chiefs? calibre. It really was a carnival affair. The giant Ellis Park stadium was filled to capacity. It was the first time that I had played in front of such a bumper crowd. We played the first leg down in Durban, and lost 2-1 to Chiefs, so the second leg was a do-or-die for the Birds. Even though we were all over Chiefs throughout the second leg game, it is still a mystery how we missed the chance to beat Amakhosi. The second leg ended in a goalless draw, and Chiefs won on aggregate. I have no doubt that the football fans that came to watch that final got what they bargained for. The two soccer giants dished out entertaining football on the day. It really was total football."
Another barren spell:
While there was massive expectation for the Birds to deliver in their next campaign, the 1987 and 1988 seasons were disappointing. The Dube Birds ended 10th and 12th on the log respectively, results which saw them missing out on the Top Eight Competition and adding nothing of significance to the trophy cabinet. The pressure was mounting to deliver and changes were about to be made...
In the next instalment, Swallows move out of the '80s and into the '90s where a new generation of Swallows players were tasked with the never ending quest for glory and honour.
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