Kaizer Chiefs has lost a chunk of the heart and soul of the club as Amakhosi mourns the passing of former Atlanta Chiefs President ,Dick Cecil, the man that signed Kaizer Chiefs Chairman, Dr Kaizer Motaung, for the club in the inaugural North American Soccer League in 1968.
Cecil was instrumental in the formation of Atlanta Chiefs, after the construction of the Atlanta Stadium in 1966 to attract a major baseball team to the city.
They succeeded when the Milwaukee Braves franchise relocated to become the Atlanta Braves, with Cecil as one of the Braves’ key executives.
Cecil, ever the shrewd businessman, wanted to keep the stadium occupied with (sports) events throughout the year and, after seeing the huge interest in the United States in the 1966 FIFA World Cup, he knew he needed to bring soccer to Atlanta.
After first playing in the renegade National Professional Soccer League in 1967, the following year the Atlanta Chiefs joined the newly formed NASL (North American Soccer League), as soccer was broadcast on national television via CBS for the first time.
Despite America’s disenfranchisement laws, Atlanta was a bourgeoning multi-racial city with the emergence of a prosperous black middle and upper class.
To capitalise on the city’s ‘cosmopolitan’ nature, Cecil’s vision for the Atlanta Chiefs was to recruit players from all over the world. In the year Kaizer Motaung arrived in Atlanta, there were a total of five players recruited from Africa in the Chiefs squad; two from South Africa, three from Zambia and one from Ghana.
On 14 December 1967 Cecil announced the signing of Kaizer ‘Boy-Boy’ Motaung for America’s 1968 North American Soccer League (NASL) season.
Motaung made his debut for Atlanta Chiefs on 27 May 1968 against visiting defending English champions, Manchester City, scoring on his debut in an upset 3-2 win for Atlanta Chiefs.
The rest, as they say is history, as Motaung scored 11 goals in the inaugural league season to lead Atlanta Chiefs to the NASL title, winning the League’s Rookie of the Year prize.
“Dick Cecil gave me the opportunity to play professional football with players from all over the world. I still feel very honoured to have been part of the first team from Atlanta to win a championship in any sport in 1968. I held him in very high esteem. He was a kind gentleman. Atlanta Chiefs is the reason there is a Kaizer Chiefs today in South Africa. When I left Atlanta, it was with the inspiration of your father that I decided to pursue this journey of forming a club in South Africa,” Dr. Motaung said today in a note of condolence to Cecil’s son Terry, in paying tribute after hearing of Mr Cecil’s passing.
The then 23-year-old Motaung quickly established himself as one of Chiefs’ most popular players when he signed and is among those who can be credited with the huge love for the game the city of Atlanta continues to have today.
He was known in the United States as ‘Boy-Boy’ by the club’s supporters, also one of his many nicknames back home in South Africa.
“The impact Kaizer, or ‘Boy-Boy’ as we called him, had was immense. Off the field, he was a quiet and very serious guy, who was not very flamboyant. But that changed on the pitch. He was a great athlete and striker, and he knew where the goal was. He won many games for us, everybody liked him,” Cecil had previously said of Motaung in hailing his impact on Atlanta Chiefs.
Chiefs were sensational in 1968, winning the NASL title after beating San Diego Toros over two legs in the final. Motaung scored the third goal in the 3-0 win in the second leg, which took place in Atlanta (the first leg had finished in a goalless draw).
“This was the first professional sports championship of any kind in Atlanta,” Chiefs’ vice-president Cecil reflected years later, as it was only much later that the city’s baseball side, Atlanta Braves, would start winning titles.
Cecil was proud of the role Motaung’s time at Atlanta Chiefs played in his eventual formation of the massive institution which Kaizer Chiefs has become.
“I am very proud of what Kaizer has achieved. Kaizer Chiefs are a club that is well-known worldwide,” Cecil had said in tribute to his former player.
Kaizer Chiefs again wishes to extend its sincere condolences to the Cecil family and the broader Atlanta soccer community.