Part five: The fifth decade (1989-1998)
In this edition Walter Mabeba takes us back to the 'Beautiful Birds' successful stint under Mich D'Avray in the early '90s.
Lewis to the rescue
In 1989, in an attempt to bring back the glory days, the legendary Eddie Lewis was brought in as head coach. Lewis, who played for Manchester United in England before coming to South Africa, came with a
very good track record having coached teams like Kaizer Chiefs, Wits University and Blackpool. He
had a reputation for being a strong disciplinarian and an excellent tactician. The powers-that-be at the
'Dube Birds' realized that the regular changing of coaches, besides being a costly exercise, had created a history of underachievement at the team and therefore promised Lewis time to rebuild the team and to instil the culture and environment required to win some silverware. The former England International succeeded in instilling a professional work ethic in the team with a pro-coach mentality at the club by ridding the dressing room of so-called troublemakers. Lewis annexed the 1989 Bob Save Super Bowl after
humiliating cup favourites Mamelodi Sundowns 5-1 in a replay after the first game was tied 1-1.
The game that nearly destroyed me
Captain of the team at that time, Goodman 'Goodies' Hlongwane describes the 1989 Bob Save final against Sundowns as the game that nearly destroyed him. "After leading 1-0 for 89 minutes in the first game, and with only one minute left, my back-pass to Roger de Sa was intercepted by Sundowns' Andries 'Panyaza' Chitja to score the equalizer. I really felt that I'd let the team down, but my pride was redeemed in a replay when I marked their danger man, Cedrick Nakhumwa, out of the game and ended up beating them 5-1. Our success was due to Eddie Lewis?s great skills as a coach!"
So near and yet so far
The 1989 cup triumph brought hope, however, the 1990-1992 campaigns turned sour. Swallows got off to a poor start in both seasons and never recovered.1993 stood out as the year the Dube Birds last flew
high and proud. By then Coach Mich D'Avray was at the helm. It should have been a historic year, with Moroka Swallows promising to lift the league championship title, something they had not accomplished
since the mid-60s. Instead they stumbled in their last away fixture, their quest for glory thwarted by
what some called poor management. Sundowns pipped them by just one point to take the title when with the
sides neck-and-neck going into the final games of the season, the 'Brazilians' beat Pirates 2-1 while
Swallows went down 1-0 to third place finishers AmaZulu.
Some of the great players from the 1993 squad
Current Wits University coach, Roger de Sa, who was Swallows' goalkeeper back then, describes Mich D'Avray?s squad of 1993 as the best side he ever played in at Swallows. Some of the greats from that
team included: Sipho Sikhonde: Sweeper-cummidfielder, a Maths teacher by profession, joined Swallows from Orlando Pirates, and later played for Wits. Andries Mpondo: One of the 'Birds' all-time favourites. The former midfield general now works as a prison warden in Krugersdorp. Eric Ramasike: In 1993, Ramasike looked to be one of South Africa's brightest prospects but never realized his potential and only managed to win one Bafana cap. His next port of call was Cape Town Spurs, before moving to Mamelodi Sundowns. Joseph Leepo: Joined Swallows from the now defunct Bopsol Fast Eleven. He blossomed under d?Avray?s guidance and proved to be a hit. Leepo?s 11 goals that season brought much delight to the Swallows faithful. Steve Sekano: Also a prison warden at the Johannesburg prison, he and partner, Joseph Leepo, had a telepathic understanding. Joseph Rapelego: Master of the Swallows engine room that season. 'Manelo', as he was known, also works with playing partner Mpondo at Krugersdorp Prison. Rapelego continued to play for Swallows until 1999. Abel Shongwe: Former Kaizer Chiefs player 'Chaklas' was recruited from Dynamos and was used by D'Avray as an impact player. Percy Moletsane: The former U23 captain had a tough time after leaving Swallows, being kept out of action while he was the subject of dispute between his next club Manning Rangers and Ria Stars. Phiri Tsotetsi: Tsotetsi made a name for himself at Swallows before he moved to Orlando Pirates. He last registered with AmaZulu, but broke his ankle. Unfortunately Tsotetsi never received compensation for the injury that forced him out of the game. Marcus Mphafudi: Well travelled midfielder Mphafudi was at first used by master tactician D'Avray in away games because the home fans put him off. But when he started scoring goals from midfield, he was given more chances to play. Johannes Mine: Known for his tenacious tackling and good man marking ability. Mine became one of the longest serving members at Swallows, but joined SuperSport United in 2002. Graham Lowe: Central defender Lowe stopped playing professional football after the 1993 season. The man nicknamed 'Policeman' was a reliable defender who former captain Goodman Hlongwane says he loved playing alongside. Goodman Hlongwane: He was the captain of the team, and led by example. His pace was his disadvantage but the Zola born defender made up for it by reading the game well. Jerry Makgaledisha: One of the most underrated midfielders, who was a marvel to watch.
In 1994 and 1995, the soccer gods were definitely not smiling on the Dube Birds. Despite clinching huge
sponsorships from Elephant Beer and Engen, Swallows never played to their true potential. The departure
of Mich D'Avray left the maroon and white shirted side paupers in the silverware stakes. The team
finished 10th and 15th on the log. The inception of the PSL in 1996 did nothing to improve their form. In the 1996/97 season, they finished 11th, a position they repeated in the 1997/98 season. Tens of thousands Swallows supporters voted with their feet, staying at home to avoid the pain, anger and embarrassment of the 'Birds' poor performances. Would the team's broken wings ever be mended?
Remember, if you have some Birds history stored away in your hearts and minds, please share it with at firstname.lastname@example.org