Best Orlando Pirates XI
The Buccaneers are among the most successful clubs in South African football history, but what would be their greatest ever XI?
In order to select the truest, or correct, Orlando Pirates’ best-ever XI, you would need to have been born roughly a century ago and still going strong. Old enough to have watched Pirates in their formative days before World War II, through the unstructured but heady 50s, onto the old South African Soccer League in the early 60s and then the birth of black professional soccer with the launch of the National Professional Soccer League in 1971. Plus, you will have needed to have been around to see the club barely managing to avoid relegation in the late 80s before bouncing back to be crowned African champions in the mid-90s. No such person exists, unfortunately, so in selecting a best-ever Pirates line-up some players are judged on first-hand knowledge, others on reputation. It is important to point out, however, that structured soccer exists only for the last 50 years of Pirates history, effectively diminishing the calibre of the football they played for their first three decades. But the tales of the exploits of the key players of those days have endured through the ages. This team is selected by KICK OFF’s Mark Gleeson with a modern tactical line-up, which sees four across the back, a defensive holding midfielder and two creative men in the middle in a nod to the past eras where structure was a lot looser and flair could flourish. There is also one wide player plus two strikers.
PATSON BANDA would never be pictured in a manual or held up as an example of the correct and proper way to keep goal. But his natural flair, footballing charisma and oversized personality make him, without doubt, the greatest to ever appear between the sticks for the Buccaneers. He was a candidate for Footballer of the Year on several occasions and a key member of Pirates’ league success in the old NPSL in the 1970s; he had a fiery personality, who often got on the wrong side of referees and administrators, but the fans adored him for his flying save and cheeky antics. He joined in 1971 from Orlando Highlanders and stayed for over a decade, also making the South African representative sides along the way. Williams Okpara, who played more than 300 games for Pirates, would be second choice in an acknowledgement of his longevity and consistency, while the likes of Mandy ‘All die Hoekies’ Davids, Innocent Mayoyo, Moeneeb Josephs and Senzo Meyiwa kept up the Pirates’ tradition of having a ‘crazy man’ between the poles. Pirates’ most infamous goalkeeper was Swaziland’s Richard Lukhele, who burst into tears after conceding the fourth goal in a humiliating defeat to newcomers Blackpool in the 1989. He has to be coaxed back onto the pitch by team-mate Mandla Sithole after walking off and was dubbed ‘the crying goalkeeper’ by the next day’s newspapers.
KHOMANE was a model of consistency through his long stay with the Sea Robbers, the consummate clubman who was later also a valued member of the technical staff, even serving as acting coach when needed. He was known either as ‘Yster’ or ‘Skipper’, the two nicknames telling of his tough-asnail defending, haunting many a winger who tried to get past him, but also of the respect and affection he enjoyed at the club. Khomane was selected for the South African team to play Rhodesia in 1978 (a match later cancelled and the touring Portuguese XI the next year before heading off in 1980 for a brief sojourn in the United States with Atlanta Chiefs. He was even caretaker coach along with George ‘Brains’ Mchunu when Walter da Silva was fired in 1981 and only finishing his playing days in 1986. In the right back position in later years, Lucky Lekgwathi would also prove himself as a genuine club man after coming down from Limpopo to join Pirates but he also spent some of his playing time in the centre of defence, particularly towards the end of his career.
EDWARD MOTALE only spent three years at Pirates but in that time the team won the league, the African Champions Cup, the African Super Cup, the BoB Save Super Bowl and the Top Eight Cup. There was no other left back who had
as successful a spell with the team and although other candidates could point to a longer time with Pirates, none helped amass as much silverware in as little time. Motale was also a back-up member of Bafana Bafana squad who won the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations. Off the field, Motale was a mischievous and gregarious personality while only the field he played with a steely determination, damned if he was going to let any other striker get the better of him. The 1995 generation handed Pirates, without doubt, their finest hour – beating ASEC Abidjan in the Champions League final over two legs and securing the title away after being held to a calamitous draw at home. That feat has yet to be surpassed and, so, several members of that squad do feature, perhaps disproportionately, on the list of the club’s best-ever players.
This is the department where Pirates had the most riches over the decades and where the choice is tough. In the end the selection is made, not only on the individual ability, the prowess and success, but also the longevity of the
player. WEBSTER LICHABA and EPHRAIM MASHABA are also picked for their ability to slot into other positions, as they showed through their storied careers.
Mashaba was a hot head right from the start as his many runins with the police, courts and football administrators attests to. This continued into his coaching career and culminated with his firing as Bafana coach just before Christmas in 2016. He joined Pirates from Preston Brothers in 1972, on the eve of the Top Eight Cup final against arch rivals Kaizer Chiefs. Within a year, he was a member of the SA Black XI and then in 1974 included in the first-ever mixed national team, which played an Argentine Universities team. Mashaba could also play upfront and knew his way to goal. On their way to winning the double in 1975, Mashaba scored five goals in one game against Manguang United. Lichaba joined the club in mid1974, spending several years in the same line-up with Mashaba, who later went off to play at Swaraj in the Federation Professional League and then carried on his career at Moroka Swallows. Lichaba scored the extra time cup final winner against Chiefs in 1975 and also developed the ability to play as a makeshift striker and score goals. Lichaba left the club for a stint in the USA, at Atlanta Chiefs along with Khomane and Jomo Sono. It was joked then that they should have renamed the American club ‘Atlanta Pirates’ but came back and continued with Bucs, mostly as captain, until 1984 when he joined Sono at Jomo Cosmos. Pirates spent R25,000 to replace him, splashing out on Nick Seshweni from Witbank Black Aces, who would also become a club icon. He is among the many other centre backs who could have made the final selection, like Mark
Fish, Happy Jele, Gavin
Lane, Stuart Lilley, Mbulelo Mabizela, Dan Malesela and
JOHN MOETI was so small sometimes he was hardly noticed but there can be few who have worn the Pirates jersey and played with more commitment or had as high a work rate. His stature perhaps cost him wider acclaim but Moeti was the engine room of 1995 African champions and ran Brazil ragged in the first half of the fable friendly in 1996 when Bafana led 2-0 at half-time but ended up losing at Soccer City. He played in the African Cup of Nations final against Egypt in 1998 and was a squad member in 1996 when South Africa won the competition, but a broken ankle ruled him out of the World Cup finals in France where he was sorely missed. At Pirates, he won all of South Africa’s domestic league prizes … the league, the Bob Save Super Bowl, the JPS Knockout Cup and the BP Top Eight Cup … but sadly left the club on a sour note after a contractual dispute. That experience fuelled his desire to create the players’ union. Andile Jali played in a similar style many years later and served the club with aplomb. Other great defensive midfielders were Seshweni, Andy Karacinski (who had several different positions during his time with the team) and James ‘Hitler’ Sobi, in whose day the position was termed ‘half back’.
Now the department where the real crème was conjoured and where some of the great South African players plied their trade. None better than PERCY MOLOI and JOMO SONO, two players whose careers overlapped when one was just come to the end and the other beginning. ‘Chippa’ Moloi was already heading towards the end of his career when the advent of regular league competition arrived, denying him a chance for wider glory. He was a gifted genius who enthralled the soccer scene in the 1960s, together with Kaizer Motaung and Rashad Khan. At the time of the breakaway that led to the formation of Chiefs, Pirates had assembled one of their golden teams and had there been a proper league would surely have dominated. As it was, Moloi was not pleased with the belligerence that officials showed when they were hounded out Ewert Nene and cohorts from
the club. But Moloi, the father of Tebeho Moloi, did go onto become scorer of the first-ever derby goal against Chiefs in 1970. Sono’s family connection with the club come from his father, who is also in our best Pirates’ XI. He was just 18 when he made his debut, scoring twice as Pirates beat Kagiso Hotbeans 7-3 in a friendly match at Kagiso. The goals kept on flooding in after that as Sono developed his confidence, skills and became a crowd favourite. He is now regarded among the country’s all-time greats, an automatic pick for the first South African XI and always in the hunt for the Footballer of the Year award and top scorer until he went off to the North American Soccer League. Pirates enjoyed the services of many quality midfielders with Bernard Hartze, Ernest Makhanya, Teko Modise, Kaizer Motaung, Thabo Mngomeni and Benedict Vilakazi all doing the Buccaneers’ jersey great service.
HELMAN MKHALELE was another key member of the Pirates team that won the 1995 African Champions Cup, and one of many who took the route to the club from Jomo Cosmos. His ability to deliver a cross might have been sub standard but for pure pace, exciting drive and ability to take on defenders, ‘Midnight Express’ had few equals and, time after time, proved his worth to the club. He was also a vital member of the South African side that won the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations title and qualified for the World Cup in France two years later. He also played more African club competition games than any other South African footballer before being overtaken by the current Mamelodi Sundowns generation. Pirates had some exciting dribblers in their day, notably Elias ‘Shuffle’ Mokopane. There must also be significant regret that Albert ‘Bashin’ Mahlangu took so long to blossom and was already in his 30s when he started to make an impact. But what an impact it was!
ERIC ‘SCARA’ SONO died tragically young, in a car accident in 1964, but still did enough to create a legacy and also begin a dynasty. He joined Pirates to help pay school fees and support his blind father, and in his heydey as a player still had to work as a messenger for an insurance company. He actually preferred boxing to football but his prowess on the field made him the best player of the 1950s and 60s. Son Jomo was said to be an exact replica of his father, although ‘Scara’ started out as a left wing, where he made his debut in 1954. He was captain in 1958 when Pirates cleaned up and firmly established themselves as the country’s top team and continued to be the most popular player until the car in which he and two others were travelling overturned while approaching a bend near Vredefort in the Free State. To play alongside him, there are many fine candidates but in the end JERRY SIKHOSANA gets the nod ahead of Alfred ‘Russia’ Jacobs, Herbert Leroke and McDonald Skosana. He was an infuriating player who dribbled needlessly and therefore was not as proficient in front of goal as he should have been, but you cannot take away the fact he is the author of the goal that won Pirates the Champions Cup plus scored a derby hattrick. Those are both are massive claims to fame which cannot be ignored and therefore pits him ahead of a list that should also include Keith Broad and Basil Steenkamp.