PE City’s year of NFL glory
Celebrations at VP will mark 50th anniversary of an unforgettable season
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.
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...