South African soccer's 'Lost Tribe'

Sy Lerman (File)
Sy Lerman (File)

A few days ago a large group of former South African soccer stars, most of them in the forefront of the game during their playing days, gathered at a well-known Johannesburg sports club for a sentimental reunion.

Among the group who plied their trade mainly in the 1960s and 1970s were stars of the calibre of Jingles Perreira (Kaizer Chiefs and Cape Town City), Stuart Lilley (Orlando Pirates and Highlands Park), Martin Cohen (Highlands Park) and Phil Venter (Moroka Swallows).

Conspicuous among the group, except for one notable exception in the effervescent Jerry Sadike, who sped down the right wing with considerable flair and speed for Orlando Pirates and Highlands Park, was the fact that the remainder of those present were white.

And also evident was the sobering realisation that none of them are now associated with the South African soccer spectrum as it exists today - or that they were eager to be in some way or another to join up with the likes of the PSL and Bafana Bafana.

For that matter the divorce in question was not of a one-sided making either. Those running South African soccer today have not shown any particular interest in keeping in touch with the group of players who were once revered as household names.

And what this revealing and nostalgic meeting brought home forcibly was that white soccer players, in the main, have become "The Lost Tribe" of South African soccer.

What is more, no one seems to care over-much about this unnatural situation or be prepared to do anything about it.

While the need to inject greater participation of non-whites in a myriad of sports like cricket, rugby, tennis and athletics is zealously acted on, no one seems to care much that the Bafana line-up almost never contains more than one or two white players - and not infrequently, none at all.

What makes this shortcoming particularly unfortunate is that soccer remains one of the main sporting interests of the white community - although directed more at European competition than that at their own doorstep.

But even more regrettable is that for whatever reason white players are no longer playing a major role in South African soccer when their participation would almost certainly assist in raising the international stature of the game in this country.

The first two unofficial non-racial South African national soccer teams, who played against a hodgepodge of Argentinian mercenaries and Zimbabwe in the 1970s, included approximately 50 percent whites - and to this day are regarded among the best national sides produced here.

Such a balance may not be achieved again, but a return of "The Lost Tribe" would do South African soccer the world of good and should be cultivated as a matter of some urgency.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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