I’ ve always found that the Orlando Pirates narrative is the most compelling when it comes to South African football. I wasn’t old enough to witness Moroka Swallows and many other granddaddy clubs at their zenith. But the story of Orlando Pirates is one that is as fascinating as any you will read about Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United or Juventus. It’s one that has mirrored South Africa’s past century, through the painful years of racial segregation, to the rebellious 70’s and 80’s and eventually to unity. It’s also perhaps why KICK OFF editors tend to have varying degrees of fascination with the subject that is “Ezikamaghebula”. One of the things that recently caught my attention – after months spent trying to breathe life into their 80th Anniversary – has been Pirates’ awkward relationship with its prodigal sons.
Of course, Rhulani Mokwena’s sudden
floor-crossing announcement from Mamelodi Sundowns brought this to my attention. Mokwena is the fourth generation Sono to find himself inside the Buccaneers locker room. He follows granddad Eric, uncle Jomo and his father Julius “KK” Sono (see page 64). In the March 2017 issue, Mokwena told KICK OFF that one of his earliest memories was being in the Bucs change-room, during the time his dad played for The Sea Robbers. It had a profound effect because the sound of the chalk, squeaking against the green board and the mechanical sound of tactics and strategy is what inspired him to take up coaching. The twist is (and there’s always a twist with Pirates) that his father waged something of a war for the ownership of Orlando Pirates against chairman Irvin Khoza. The “Iron Duke” said, after Julius’ last attempt, that Julius “needed mental help”. Fast-forward two years and Julius’ son could, in the shadow of Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic, mastermind Bucs’ revival. You kind of wonder whether the Pirates question ever gets broached in the Sono household at Christmas. But then again it wouldn’t be the first time that Pirates’ most celebrated former players have had to deal with some awkwardness from the mother club. For one, the P-word is probably not mentioned in the Motaung household at the dinner table. Teboho Moloi, former Bucs midfielder and son of the late Pirates great Percy Moloi, went from being the dugout doyen to a pariah for unknown reasons. Awkward.
In an interview with Robert Marawa, after
his coronation as Dr Sono, Jomo told of an incident that took place back in the day when he was getting Jomo Cosmos off the ground. According to Jomo, some of the then Pirates administrators made snide comments about him in the loo, unaware that he was in the vicinity and could hear every word they said. Jomo told radio listeners that he barged into the changing room and told his players to (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Kick Pirates’ @#$&#!” Pirates needed victory that day to win the league and, needless to say, they didn’t get a crumb from Cosmos. Anyway, it appears that some of the enmity has dissolved over time. In the same interview, Jomo mentioned the reverence he shares with current boss Dr Khoza. And with Mokwena as assistant coach, some old, much-needed Pirates soul will be injected back into the dugout. I can already picture it: Pirates, a goal down to relegation strugglers Amazulu, with “Micho” being sick of feeding the same unheard message to players, after a string of losses, he hands the team-talk over to Mokwena. Mokwena, with that ambiguous scowl that is neither threatening nor welcoming, turns to the players and says, sternly: “My father played for this club! You will not disrespect the badge like you did in that first half! You will clean up your act and play like proper Buccaneers!” He drops the chalk and storms out and Pirates win by five. At least that’s how it plays out in my mind. Let’s see what reality will bring.