Johannesburg - After committing journalism’s cardinal sin by writing that former Bucs striker McDonald Skhosana was dead, S’Busiso Mseleku chewed the fat with the very forgiving soccer legend.
I was in high spirits as I stepped into the shower on Sunday in preparation for church.
However, upon stepping out, I was soon brought way down. This was after reading an SMS from former Moroka Swallows goalkeeper Josiah “JC” Cindi.
“Morning, brother S’Bu,” he wrote. “I just read your article today in which you mentioned that Rhee [Orlando Pirates’ former striker, McDonald Skhosana] had passed away. He is still alive and is a member of our SA Masters and Legends Football Association. We are with him at Bethlehem. Thanks for the article, Bra S’Bu.”
After frantic calls and messages, I eventually spoke to Skhosana and arranged to meet him face to face.
He agreed. We met, and, after graciously accepting my apology, he shared his concerns about his former club – I use “former” here guardedly, given that one of the club’s slogans is “once a Pirate, always a Pirate” – following its dismal performance last season.
“If I was in charge, I would open the door and let all the current players go, except maybe three,” he said.
“The only player who qualifies to play for Pirates in the current squad is Abbubaker Mobara and maybe two others. As for the rest, I would let them go.”
The other two players he singled out for remaining in the squad were Riyaad Norodien and Luvuyo Memela.
“Memela just needs proper coaching. He needs to be told not to keep his head down, but to look up. He should also discard this bad habit of hanging on to the ball for too long. If he could correct those shortcomings, he would be great.”
Describing last season’s poor showing, Skhosana said: “It was bad. I was so hurt to see my beloved Pirates finish 11th on the log and lose a final [the Nedbank Cup] with such a heavy score.
“In fact, my wife, Sis’ Khosi, was so hurt that she stopped watching Bucs games for a while.”
Born in Alexander township 67 years ago, Skhosana started his career by kicking a ball around in the street, just like any kid from the ghetto. From there, he graduated to “four pal”– playing behind the poles on soccer grounds.
His first formal football club was Black Spades. Its members did drama and music performances in addition to playing football under the guidance of Akheni Gumede.
In his early days, Skhosana played against Irvin “The Iron Duke” Khoza, who is the current chairperson of Pirates and the Premier Soccer League.
“He was a defender for Dijabatho and later moved to Alexandra Blackpool, also as a defender. He played either at right-back or as a central defender. He was a clean and decent player,” said Skhosana.
“I think we first rubbed shoulders in the Under-17s.”
After his family was forced to move to Diepkloof in Soweto by the apartheid regime, he joined the Diepkloof Brave Lions, where he started in the F team and rose through the ranks to the A team.
His move to Pirates was dramatic, given that he was recruited by Moroka Swallows’ big 15 first.
“However, when Bra China ‘Dibaba’ Hlongwane who was stabbed 27 times [by knife-wielding assailants in the full glare of television cameras at Ellis Park in 1985], I would have none of it,” he recalled.
“Hlongwane visited my parents and asked for permission to take me to Pirates. They agreed.”
Making the team was not as easy as taking candy from a kid.
“I travelled with the club to Katlehong for a friendly match against Pretoria Sundowns. They had Vincent ‘Tantie’ Julius in goal, Bernard ‘Dancing Shoes’ Hartze, the Singh brothers and Essop ‘Smiley’ Moosa.”
Skhosana said it took more than an hour for Pirates to finalise the starting line-up, while the crowd at the packed stadium waited patiently.
“Most of the haggling was about me because there were three other players at the club who were fighting for the number 9 [centre forward] position.
“Hlongwane told them in no uncertain terms that I should be in the starting line-up as there was no way he could go through all that trouble in vain. He told them that if I was not fielded, Swallows would snatch me up.”
That is how Skhosana got his start. He went on to score the opening goal as well as the winning one.
“I scored about 15 minutes into the game. Then, just before half time, Smiley dribbled past our entire defence and equalised.
“A few minutes before half time, I got the ball and did what he had done – dribbled past their entire defence and scored the winner.
“We won the match 2-1, and so my place in the starting line-up was cemented.”
This was in 1970 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Skhosana went on to become one of the best centre forwards to wear the famous black-and-white Buccaneers jersey.
He regards 1973 as the team’s best season. This is when Pirates won all the trophies in what was then the National Professional Soccer League. He also believes that squad was the best the club has so far had.
“What made that team tick was that we were like a family. Our team spirit was at its highest. We did not have to like each other as we came from different parts of the country, but we would die for each other. Once we put that jersey on, we were like one.
“There were no salaries in those days. We used to earn between R5 and R30 per match, depending on whether it was a friendly or a league game. It was only when we played against Kaizer Chiefs or Moroka Swallows that we felt like tycoons – we’d get between R200 and R250, depending on the gate takings.”
He mentions Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba and Percy “Chippa” Moloi as two of the men who contributed immensely to his success.
“Shakes led by example as captain, and every piece of advice that Percy gave me worked like a charm.”
About the powerful shot that was a menace to many goalkeepers of that era, he said: “I come from a family of footballers. My uncles, who played for Alexandra Rangers and Moroka Stars, were strikers of note and coached me from a young age on how to hit a perfect shot.”
As I left the Dobsonville Extension home of the man I had killed off a few days earlier, my heart was singing with all the nostalgia of the good ol’ days.