A call for due recognition of SA’s football heroes

RIP
RIP

Johannesburg - One of the most prolific strikers of the 1970s, Alfred “Russia” Jacobs, was laid to rest in his home town in Bethlehem in the Free State today.

“Bra Mbi”, as he was known to his peers, passed away last week Friday.

His funeral is one in a series as, last Sunday, another striker from the 1980s, Jeffrey “Tornado” Ntsibande, was buried in Soweto, a day after yet another goalscorer of note from the 70s, Michael “Bizah” Dlamini, was given a hero’s send-off in Durban.

What saddens me is that the younger generation is oblivious to these greats and just look at us in bewilderment when we speak of their heroics.

Just a few years back, I was shocked to the core when I announced the death of former Moroka Swallows striker Andries "Panyaza" Maseko and a junior sports writer asked: “Who is that, Bra S’Bu?”

To the uninitiated, Jacobs was part of that all-conquering Buccaneers side of the 70s that had the likes of the two Ephraims – Jomo Sono and Shakes Mashaba – Patson “Kamuzu” Banda and the like.

This was the team that swept up all five trophies in the 1973 National Professional Soccer League (the NSL and PSL forerunner) season.

They conquered all in front of them. Some even referred to them as the national team.

Dlamini also played for Amakhosi during that golden era when football was football.

A highly decorated striker in his prime, he left defenders sprawled on the turf in his wake. I still remember an Action Magazine cover showing him jumping over two defenders who were desperately trying to tackle him.

To know just how dangerous Ntsibande – who played for Pirates and Moroka Swallows when the latter was still part of the famous Soweto Big Three – was with the ball at his feet, you would have to talk to the likes of Joseph “Banks” Setlhodi, Frederick “The Cat” Mfeka and the same Banda.

What breaks my heart is that very little can be found on record about these giants of South African football.

A former colleague told me that, on a recent visit to Bethlehem, he tried to locate the Jacobs’ home to no avail as no one seemed to know anything about “Russia”.

It is a sad state that needs to be corrected.

If nothing is done, we run the risk of present and coming generations knowing nothing about the rich history of our football and its heroes.

Some years back, around 2003, while helping with the book 30 Years of South African Football, I found that little writing existed regarding the past of our beautiful game.

One had to string together bits and pieces from newspaper and magazine cuttings in libraries located in different towns across the country.

It is high time that South Africans from different walks of life write books about themselves, or have those who are capable of doing so compile books on their lives.

Autobiographies and biographies are urgently required to keep these memories and records alive.

We cannot afford to get to a time when young people in the country do not have at their fingertips the knowledge that Doctor “16V” Khumalo scored South Africa’s first international goal, Philemon “Chippa” Masinga scored the historic goal that took South Africa to their first World Cup in France 1998, Mark Williams scored the two goals that secured the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations trophy and Jerry “Legs of Thunder” Sikhosana scored the goal that earned Pirates the honour of being the first club from southern Africa to be crowned African champions in 1995.

All this needs to be properly recorded and displayed where people of all ages can find the information.

We cannot afford for the players mentioned above to die as nonentities and nobodies.

They are the pride of the nation and must be revered in life and in death.

Follow me on Twitter @Sbu_Mseleku

My apologies: In the earlier version I mentioned McDonald “Rhee” Skhosana as being late. He is actually still alive.

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