PE City’s year of NFL glory

Cel­e­bra­tions at VP will mark 50th an­niver­sary of an un­for­get­table sea­son

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - SPORT - Ivor Markman

MANY older sports fans will re­mem­ber the ex­cite­ment which per­me­ated the Port El­iz­a­beth soc­cer world in 1967 when Port El­iz­a­beth City, known af­fec­tion­ately as PE City or “City”, won the Na­tional Foot­ball League ti­tle.

To­day the club is com­mem­o­rat­ing this mem­o­rable event with an all-day cel­e­bra­tion at the Vic­to­ria Park Sports Club, where City are now based.

“As a for­mer player who played for PE City for 23 years, and also served as coach and chair­man, I thought it im­por­tant to com­mem­o­rate the 50th an­niver­sary of win­ning the NFL,” said Ed­die Fal­coner, man­ager of the VP Sports Club.

“PE City has had a large fol­low­ing over the years and I thought peo­ple would en­joy be­ing able to view mem­o­ra­bilia from the time.”

When, on Septem­ber 15, 1967, City beat Olympia 7-1 in a thrilling match at the Cru­sader Ground, the crowd went bal­lis­tic, wav­ing ban­ners and us­ing rat­tles and hoot­ers to cre­ate enough noise to raise the prover­bial “roof”.

Even diehard rugby play­ers joined in the ex­cite­ment as the crowd, es­ti­mated at 18 000, cel­e­brated the vic­tory.

Af­ter Dave Marais handed the tro­phy over to City captain Matt Gray, founder and chair­man Jimmy Crossan kissed the cup and the City squad did a lap of hon­our around the field.

The cel­e­bra­tions con­tin­ued into the night and while trainer Eli Fuchs and the play­ers hugged the tro­phy, elated mo­torists punched their hoot­ers in the en­su­ing traf­fic jam.

It wasn’t easy becoming NFL Cham­pi­ons but in three short years, City had turned around from near rel­e­ga­tion to make it to the top.

The Na­tional Foot­ball League was es­tab­lished in 1959 and was the first pro­fes­sional soc­cer league in South Africa.

Dur­ban and a num­ber of ar­eas in the Transvaal were the first to be rep­re­sented, but in 1962 a pro­mo­tional play-off was started and Cape Town (1962), Bloem­fontein (1963) and Port El­iz­a­beth (1964) were in­cluded. City was founded in 1961 by Crossan. The club had to over­come nu­mer­ous ob­sta­cles, in­clud­ing near rel­e­ga­tion du- ring 1964. Crossan re­alised he needed play­ers of a higher cal­i­bre if he wished to get to the top of the First Di­vi­sion, so he flew to Bri­tain and or­gan­ised the pur­chase of young up-and-com­ing play­ers.

“The first two years the club was in ex­is­tence [Crossan] did ev­ery­thing from col­lect­ing the jer­seys and get­ting them laun­dered to pump­ing up the prac­tice balls and sign­ing the play­ers’ con­tracts,” said Matt Crowe dur­ing a 1966 interview with the Her­ald’s sports editor, Alex Eales.

City’s first player-coach was Jimmy Wil­liams and the team grad­u­ally as­serted it­self but in 1965, he re­turned to his old club, High­lands Park, and was re­placed by Crowe, who joined from Nor­wich City and Brent­ford.

“The few South African-born play­ers in the league who could fit into our team would only be for sale at ex­or­bi­tant fees and, be­cause of this, we are forced to re­cruit play­ing staff from overseas,” said Crowe.

City were lucky to ob­tain the spon­sor­ship of Ford Mo­tor Com­pany, which went a long way in help­ing the Bri­tish agent, Dave Wat­son, to clinch deals with new play­ers.

Play­ers, who were soon to be­come house­hold names, in­cluded stars such as “Stain­less” Stan Steele (joined City in 1964), Ge­orge McLeod, John Scott, Peter Kerr, Andy Mal­colm, John Gal­lagher, Kevin Lewis and Gor­don Fin­cham.

By the end of 1965 City had risen to fifth place but still had a ma­jor prob­lem with­out their own ground.

Crossan said this was a mas­sive draw­back as City could not progress un­til the field ques­tion was set­tled.

Be­cause of the lack of a home ground, the team was forced to play the first six matches of the sea­son away.

This also meant the club had to fi- nance six trips, in­clud­ing air fares, ho­tels, in­ci­den­tals and play­ers’ wages, cost­ing al­most R15 000 be­fore the club showed any fi­nan­cial gain.

At first, City worked out on the beach but later they grad­u­ated to the Fairview Race­course.

Only af­ter the sea­son was al­ready upon them, did they get to a grass strip lent by Pi­rates Hockey Club.

Later City ob­tained per­mis­sion to use the West­bourne Oval and the Boet Eras­mus Sta­dium.

Thanks to the gen­eros­ity of the Port El­iz­a­beth Cricket Club and Cru­saders Rugby Club, City were able to use the Cru­saders field for their home matches.

Crossan said a spe­cialised soc­cer sta­dium in Port El­iz­a­beth was needed.

At the start of the 1965 sea­son, Ge­orge Sum­mers was re­cruited from Brent­ford but he was se­ri­ously in­jured in his first home match against Hel­lenic.

Haydn Hough was also in­jured that year and re­placed by John Gal­lagher, who proved to be so suc­cess­ful he was never re­placed as the No 1 goalie.

In 1966 City went on to be­come the first South African club to em­ploy full-time pro­fes­sional play­ers and al­though they came se­cond in the league, made it to the semi­fi­nals of the Shield, and the quar­ter­fi­nals of the Cup, it was an­other bad year for in­juries.

How­ever, top play­ers such as Alan Redpath, Tommy An­der­son, Terry Mancini, Ge­orge Scott, Roger Hugo, Jimmy McLaren and Hugh Houston were all signed up dur­ing the course of the year.

City had their best sea­son in 1967 when, un­der Crowe’s guid­ance, they won the Na­tional Foot­ball League.

How­ever, fol­low­ing the win, many of the top play­ers moved on and City never reached the same pin­na­cle of suc­cess again.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: IVOR MARKMAN

NA­TIONAL HE­ROES: LEFT: PE City goal­keeper in 1968 Iain Ower (left) and ex-PE City player Ed­die Fal­coner hold up the cov­eted Dave Marais Float­ing Tro­phy which City won in 1967. The tro­phy will be on dis­play to­day at the Vic­to­ria Park Sports Club as...

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