Durban - The year 1985 was one that brought pride, and a measure of lost glory, for KwaZulu-Natal in football terms.
It was in that year that one of South Africa’s oldest clubs, African Wanderers, narrowly lost in the Mainstay Cup final, pipped 1-0 by a star-studded Bloemfontein Celtic in extra time.
The disappointment for the Kingdom province was later replaced with joy when, in the same year, Bush Bucks, which had last been a force in the 1950s, went on a fairytale ride to claim the inaugural National Soccer league (NSL) title.
The NSL had been formed after clubs broke away from the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL).
You might be wondering why I am bringing back these bittersweet memories dating back 31 years.
The common denominator in the near-success of Wanderers and the ultimate accomplishments by Bucks was one Lawrence “Big Bear” Ngubane, who passed away a few days ago.
If ever there was a passionate football administrator, Ngubane was the man.
To prove that his achievements at the two clubs were no fluke, after being roped in by Irvin Khoza to manage Orlando Pirates 10 years later, Ngubane guided The Buccaneers to their first league title in 23 years.
He did not stop there.
He engineered the club’s success in winning the CAF Champions League, which was then known as the African Champions Cup, in 1995.
Besides his achievements as a club boss, the Big Bear – as he was affectionately called – was also among the first club bosses to endorse the motion to move from the NPSL and form the NSL.
It was a tough decision, and a period that left a blot on South Africa’s football landscape, as lives were lost in the aftermath.
With an eye for talent, and never being short-sighted when it came to delegation – an important ingredient in leadership – Ngubane put together a great Bush Bucks team in 1985 and brought in Clive “The Dog” Barker to mould it into the force it became.
The club boasted talented players such as Mlungisi “Professor” Ngubane, Neil Tovey, Dennis Wicks, Bennet Gondwe and Calvin Petersen, to mention just a few.
During his spell at Pirates, he brought Mike Makaab on board and we all know what happened at the end of that season: the Sea Robbers were crowned the NSL kings.
Ngubane’s passing reminded me of the 1992 historical drama, The Last of the Mohicans, set in 1757 during the French and Indian War. We are also seeing the last of an interesting character in our football, known as “Preza” in township lingo.
As mentioned in previous columns, this character was the be-all and end-all in township football clubs.
The Preza was usually the richest guy in the hood who had some spare change to own a football club.
He owned a club in the real sense of the word as nothing happened without his approval.
He “owned” club meetings, the club kit stayed and was cleaned at his house, and sometimes even players stayed at his house. In some instances, he would own a lorry (truck) that transported players.
These were later replaced by small buses, called Coasters, before clubs improved their status, switching to using luxury buses and flying to matches.
May your soul rest in peace, Mbomvu, Somahhashi, Nyoniyezwe, Nomafu, Myaluza, Ngcukumane, Zikode elimhlophe, Matomela!
Uyibekile induku ebandla – you left an indelible mark.
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