The charismatic Abdul Bhamjee, who died aged 82 on Monday night, was at the helm when the then National Professional Soccer League clubs broke away and formed the new National Soccer League (NSL) in 1985. And he was like a breath of fresh air.
The colourful, flamboyant Bhamjee single-handedly changed the face of South African football. Under his leadership, the NSL became the biggest sporting organisation in the country. He was also the driving force behind the building of the original FNB Stadium.
He was a sports journalist’s dream with his no-nonsense and sometimes downright hilarious quotable quotes. He was the original Mr Razzmatazz.
He could sell ice to an Eskimo – such was his ability to promote his dreams of making South African soccer into a force to be reckoned with and filling up stadiums.
His weekly media press conferences were not to be missed. Tuesday became Abdul Bhamjee day for local football journalists. He loved the media and worked closely with the fourth estate, always having some snippet for them.
He once said there was no such thing as bad publicity “Once the media stop writing about me, I’m dead.”
He was also a great anti-apartheid fighter. His famous quote “that white ring of shame”, when he referred to the mainly empty suites at Ellis Park when a major football match was played there, will forever be etched on the minds of older journalists as well as rugby and government officials of that era.
He fought hard against the government for equality in sport. There could be no normal sport in an abnormal society.
He was a brilliant leader and laid the foundations of the NSL’s successor, the Premier Soccer League.
But his downfall came in 1991 when he was convicted of fraud. He denied the allegations, claiming he was entitled to the 10% commission of securing sponsorship for the NSL.
Bhamjee was an inspiration to many officials and budding soccer writers.
RIP Bhamjee, football was never the same after 1991.