The birth of Kaizer Chiefs
One can’t talk about Kaizer Chiefs without mentioning the name of Kaizer Motaung, the man who followed a glittering playing career that places him among the all-time greats of the game, not only locally but in the USA as well, by founding what has become the most successful club in South African football history.
Born on 16 October 1944 in Orlando East, Soweto, Motaung’s remarkable career began in 1960 when his exceptional natural talent earned him a senior debut for Orlando Pirates at the tender age of 16. Throughout the 1960s, the inside-left’s spellbinding ball control, vision and clinical finishing justified his hero status among Buccaneers fans, who bestowed upon him the moniker, Chincha Guluva, the man with the quick feet. His exploits began to attract attention from further afield and in 1968, he departed for the USA to play for Atlanta Chiefs in the North American Soccer League (NASL) after being recruited by former West Ham United player, Phil Woosnam, who was by coaching the American side.
Few, if any, Atlanta supporters in the stadium would have heard of Motaung as he ran on as a substitute to make his debut in a friendly against English giants, Manchester City. His two goals and impressive all-round play, however, ensured his was the name on everybody’s lips by the time the final whistle sounded. By the end of the season he was voted Rookie of the Year, having played a major role in steering his new team to the NASL championship title. Fittingly, it was Motaung who netted the third goal in Chiefs’ 3-0 second-leg victory over the San Diego Toros in the final, after a goalless draw in the first leg.
The following season, ‘Big Boy’, as the South African was soon nicknamed in America, scored 16 goals in 16 matches, ending the season as the league’s top goalscorer and being unanimously voted into the NASL All-Star Team.
Meanwhile, back in Mzansi, things weren’t going so well at Motaung’s former club Orlando Pirates, where internal disagreements saw team manager Ewert Nene and three players, Thomas ‘Zero’Johnson, Ratha Mogoathleng, Edward ‘Msomi’ Khoza expelled. At the conclusion of the 1969 NASL season, Motaung returned home to try and resolve the impasse but sadly his best efforts proved unsuccessful. As a result of these circumstances, it was decided an alternative was needed and in late 1969, the Kaizer XI was formed.
The Kaizer XI arranged and played numerous friendlies, fielding a fantastic team with players such as the acrobatic goalkeeper Vincent ‘Tantie’ Julius, the tough-as-nails Jackie Masike, the speedy Herman ‘Pelé’ Blaschke, midfield genius Patrick ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe and the three expelled Pirates players, whose skills and flair soon began to draw ever-growing crowds of spectators to watch them perform.
The positive response from the supporters gave Motaung cause to consider setting up his own club. Drawing on the lessons he learnt from his experience in the United States, he resolved to establish a professionally run club where, above all, players would be paid what they were promised, on time. That might sound normal these days, but back then most South African club bosses routinely failed to deliver on their promises. Not Kaizer, his word is his word, and on 7 January 1970, Kaizer Chiefs FC was born.
It was far from plain sailing during the new club’s formative years. Many within the football fraternity viewed them as upstarts and did not want them to succeed. Fortunately though, most of the players bought into Motaung’s vision of setting up a club that would be run professionally, and trusted his integrity.
With the support of various business partners to supplement Motaung’s personal capital investment, Kaizer Chiefs soon became a force to be reckoned with, winning their first league title in 1974. Motaung contributed 13 league goals to the triumph, despite missing most of the season while playing for Denver Dynamos in the NASL.
In addition to the 1974 league title, Kaizer Chiefs won numerous trophies in the early 1970s, including the BP Top Eight (1973, 1974, 1976), Champion of Champions (1972, 1974, 1976) and the Life Challenge Cup (1971, 1972).
Fans flocked from all corners to be enthralled by the excitement provided by a team brimming with fantastic players. Joseph ‘Banks’ Sethlodi, an accomplished goalkeeper who also took the penalties, defenders Masike and Ryder Mofokeng, midfielders Petros ‘Ten-Ten’ Nzimande, Ntsoelengoe, Vusi ‘Computer’ Lamola and strikers Pelé Blaschke, Michael ‘Bizzah’ Dlamini and Abednigo ‘Shaka’ Ngcobo were all instrumental in creating the swashbuckling style of flowing, entertaining, winning football that attracted supporters by their millions, and has become synonymous with the Kaizer Chiefs brand.
Of that formidable group of footballing pioneers, the chairman likes to remind us: “We, as Kaizer Chiefs, are standing on the shoulders of that generation. If it wasn’t for the success they had in those early years, I don’t know where we would be today.”
With the team’s success came affectionate nicknames, with Amakhosi (which means ‘chiefs’ or ‘kings’ in Zulu) and the (Phefeni) Glamour Boys being the most prominent. The latter label was given by the supporters because Motaung always insisted that his players dress well to fit in with the professional image of the club. Those halcyon years were also defined by the Afro hairstyle, which became popular with a lot of players who imitated Motaung’s trendsetting style when he returned from America sporting the new look.
The club’s slogan of ‘Love & Peace’ came about as an expression of non-aggression in response to a growing wave of violence among fans of other clubs, especially when their teams were losing. The mantra was, and still remains, a core element in what it means to be a Kaizer Chiefs fan.
After wrapping up his successful career in the United States, Motaung returned home permanently in 1975 to continue playing for, and running, the club that he had established five years earlier. However, he hung up his soccer boots only a year later to concentrate fully on guiding Chiefs on their path to becoming the dominant force in South African football that it is today.
Motaung’s decision to focus solely on the administration of the club in 1976 was swayed by the tragic death that year of Ewert ‘The Lip’ Nene. Chiefs’ popular team manager, who had recruited many of the team’s star players, was in Springs to sign up talented young winger, Nelson ‘Teenage’ Dladla, when he was attacked and murdered by hooligans who didn’t want to lose their favourite player to the Glamour Boys. In the absence of Nene, Motaung’s administrative responsibilities increased, leaving insufficient time to devote to playing.
South Africa’s first multiracial league kicked off in 1978, with Kaizer Chiefs achieving a respectable fourth position at the end of the season, as the highest placed traditionally black side, behind originally white clubs, Lusitano, Wits University and Arcadia Shepherds. One year on though, Amakosi were champions, holding off strong competition from Highlands Park and Arcadia Shepherds.
By that time, white players had joined Chiefs, the first of which was Lucky Stylianou, a defensive midfielder. Others would soon follow, including goalkeeper Peta Bala’c, Jimmy ‘Brixton Tower’ Joubert and Frank ‘Jingles’ Pereira.
Amakhosi were by now South Africa’s most popular team. The magic of Kaizer Chiefs derives directly from projecting the proud and dignified image that was so central to Motaung’s vision, because it extended beyond football. The club was formed at the height of repressive apartheid legislation in South Africa and it always presented itself as a self-assured, modern and glamorous institution. Its inspirational vision fitted in with the mood of the times. With their success, Chiefs provided a rare outlet of joy and happiness in turbulent times.
One of the highlights of the seventies was Chiefs becoming the first black side to beat a white one. It happened in the Chevrolet Champions of Champions at the Rand Stadium. Hellenic had won the first leg 4-0. The excellent, but controversial Joe Frickleton, had once boasted that a black team would never be as good as a white one.
Kaizer Chiefs, however, proved Frickleton wrong when they beat his ‘white side’ Hellenic (from Cape Town) 2-1 in the second leg. It was an historic moment as it was the first time that an African side had beaten a white team in South Africa.
Amakhosi had grown in only ten years’ time to become the best and most supported soccer side in South Africa. More was to follow…