Shoes left deep prints

2015-04-26 15:00

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The 1996 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) was part of a crazy and exhilarating time.

South Africa was just two years into democracy and still feeling giddy, the Springboks had won the rugby World Cup on home soil and Orlando Pirates had just been crowned the kings of African club football. An Afcon triumph for Bafana Bafana would be the proverbial cherry on top.

As Clive Barker’s squad powered its way to the finals, South Africans expressed themselves in the craziest fashion. They would arrive at the stadium brandishing dead fish, pilchard cans and pairs of shoes. Throughout the game they would chant “Feeeesh” and “Shoooooes” while brandishing these comical items in honour of Mark Fish and John “Shoes” Moshoeu, two key stars in that heroic team.

While the whole team was exceptional in effort and talent, Shoes was arguably the standout player. Not only could he read his opponents like a psychic, his ability to carry the team was second to none.

Shoes was a coach’s dream midfielder, creating spaces in the field for himself and his team-mates and showing up where he was not expected. He was the kind of player who could be relied on to lift his team and alter the pace and pattern of a game.

He was the ingredient Barker needed in a team that was still fumbling its way in the tough terrain of international competition.

Neil Tovey may have been the captain, but Shoes was the leader influencing the fluidity of play. It was a role he had played since breaking into the professional ranks – and would play until he bowed out at the incredibly ripe age of 42.

At Giant Blackpool, where he first made his mark, he carried a team with few players of calibre on his broad shoulders. It is to his credit that, whereas some great teams litter the graveyard of South African football or languish in nowhere leagues, Blackpool is still one of those that regularly makes it into the conversations of football fans.

And when Blackpool is mentioned, it is always in the context of Moshoeu.

Shoes’ inspirational on-field leadership at Blackpool ensured that even when the minnows met the giants of the previous incarnations of the PSL, they were never walkovers. By the time he signed for big-name Kaizer Chiefs in 1993, he was already a football idol, albeit a reluctant one. Fame and flash were never Shoes’ style.

He was dedicated to football and his mother. He never succumbed to his celebrity status.

Genius aside, his simplicity, hard work and dedication were the reasons he is still considered a legend in Turkey, one of Europe’s prime football stages and where he spent his ripest football years.

It is also the reason he was able to play top-flight football for so long and still be active in the third tier of the game well into his late 40s. Were it not for the cancer, he would still have been running between the white lines into his 50s.

Farewell to a gem, a genius, a legend – and a gentleman.

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