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Maponyane, goal machine

Submitted by on Saturday, 13 September 2008No Comment
Maponyane, goal machine

Former Kaizer Chiefs, Pirates and Bafana Bafana striker Marks Maponyane talks about the ongoing decline in SA football, being the proud father of St John’s College’s head boy, his work as a TV commentator and football pundit —and that first pay cheque from Chiefs.

You were the South African footballer of the year in 1983, 1987 and 1994; you got 13 caps for Bafana Bafana and you are the all time highest goal scorer for Kaiser Chiefs (85); which of these achievements are you most proud of?

Playing for the national team would easily be my proudest moment. In fact the absolute highlight of my career was playing in that inauguration game in 1994 against Zambia. Nelson Mandela landed in a helicopter and came out and was greeting the players and it was the first time I saw him. And we won 1 – 0! Interestingly it all happened at the last minute for me. I only got the call from Clive Barker telling me I was playing, the night before the game.

You played for Chiefs for ten years and Pirates for three years. When you look back do you see yourself as a Chiefs or Pirates player?

I remember myself as a Chiefs player, because they made me who I am. That’s where the fans started loving me (laughs) and that’s where I spent a lot of my time. And I suppose as the leading goal scorer it shows that’s where I had fun. Also I won lots of trophies there. I’m sure I could have won lots at Pirates, but I didn’t stay that long.

To put it mildly, the fans of both those clubs are quite fanatical; how did they react to you changing clubs?

Ironically it wasn’t how they treated me, but how I got them to treat me. I had the opportunity to be on radio and in the newspapers to explain why I left Chiefs – it was commercial – and it seemed my explanation was accepted by the fans. The funny part was the first game I played for Pirates against Chiefs; I had to remind myself that scoring meant running another direction to the direction I was used to going (laughs).

I’ve noticed that virtually everyone who walks by greets or acknowledges you; would they be mostly Chiefs’ fans?

Surprisingly, usually fifty/ fifty. At the end of the day, it seems I pleased both camps. Also I was fortunate in that I scored in my debut for Chiefs, on the 12th April 1981 against Leicester City in Eldorado, and I scored in my debut for Pirates against Jomo Cosmos in Durban at Chatsworth. Actually in that game I had a terrible first half – I kept looking at my black and white jersey and not concentrating on the match. But in the second half I realised my reputation was on the line, so I got down to business and fortunately scored two goals and we won 3 – 2.

As a striker you were an obvious target and had to look after yourself; how did you do it?

First I suffered a few knocks and played a couple of games with swollen ankles. You may remember in those days we played with big no-nonsense, strong defenders who kicked everything that moved – and I was moving (laughs) all the time! So I realised I can’t be a youngster anymore; I need to give back. So I started doing weights and I was solid as a rock; I did some gymnastics, which helped and my home became Old Eds, because of the fields, where I trained religiously on my own. Then during games, especially when I was waiting for that final pass, I used to look for the defender’s boot. I would stand on that boot and take off from it, which usually stopped them or put them down (laughs). But I would know I was a target from my own changing room, because our coach would say, ‘Guys let the striker know you are there; if you get a yellow card so-be-it, but let him know you are there.’ Well that’s exactly what was going on in the opposition changing room.

You played in Portugal for Victoria Setubal, what was that like?

That was in 1987 and my first trip overseas. The coach was the only one who spoke English, the days were long – the sun used to set after nine’ o’clock – I would have two days in one, watching television that spoke a language I didn’t understand…

…so a bit of a culture shock?

I’ll say! I came from Soweto where I grew up, and my first trip overseas was to Portugal where they don’t speak English (laughs). I couldn’t even pronounce their names; imagine coming from a township and you see a group of white guys together, who all looked the same to me (laughs); I would just scream and they would know where to pass the ball – they called me the South African with the squeaky voice. And we played against great teams like Porto and Sporting Lisbon, and I would look at the stadiums, which I had only seen before on TV, and I was in them! I have got memories that you cannot erase. But eventually it became frustrating; I was there for seven months, then I came home under one of those agreements where you have a ticket to go on a winter break, and I never went back.

And your time with Grasshopper Zurich?

That was basically trials for 3 months. I was there with Fanie Madida and we had a lot of fun, but in the end it didn’t work out.

Professional players, especially in the overseas leagues, earn insane amounts of money. What did players in your day earn?

My first salary when I joined Kaiser Chiefs was R600.00. And my last salary when I stopped playing football was R3, 800.00. That’s all. So I had a full time job. I worked.

Who did you work for?

I worked for Premier milling. And then I joined Adidas in 1984 when they started sponsoring me. And because I had a sales target, no matter how hard the game was on the weekend, come Monday, I had to see clients and I had some as far as Francistown.

Did being a well known footballer help?

It helped a lot. Often when I walked into shops to sell Adidas attire, some of the assistants would think it was my shop (laughs), because I was on the posters and my endorsed boots were in the shops. And then customers would want their picture taken with me and they would buy boots so their kids could play like Marks (laughs).

What are you doing now?

I have a company that does corporate gifts, corporate and protective clothing; I commentate and I do motivational talks. I started doing them with Gary Bailey – I used to supply the ‘black,’ perspective (laughs).

Tell me about muti in South African football.

A lot of the teams I played for, although not all of them, used muti. It confused me because some were winning and others were not winning. But when you belong to a team and you want to work together with everyone around you, you have to follow the rules of the team – whether you believe in muti or not. We would do the weirdest things like being cut on the chest, and being cut on the arms, and being cut on the knees and then they would rub some itchy stuff in the cuts…

…and if you didn’t win after all that?

They would look for excuses. Either somebody had gone out and shook a woman’s hand, or someone had come too close to the players and all those excuses. And of course after winning it would always be, ‘Ai, that thing works!’ We would have a specific muti man and he would last just like the coach – for as long as his muti worked (laughs). And then you would find a situation where two teams were using the same muti man, and they would end up playing draws all the time when they met… (laughs). But it was all psychological. If they thought anything would work in the player’s mentality, they would use it. Interestingly we had a few white players and for them it was a culture shock, and they had to adjust or have an agreement with the coach, that they would do this and not that.

You have done well, but that is not always the case with retired professional soccer players.

You know I had a program on 702 called, ‘Where are they now?’ Interestingly all the white players we spoke to were working or running their own businesses, but most black players were either doing nothing or being a coach – they can’t all be coaches?

Why do you think there is that difference?

I think it’s because of their mentality that, ‘We are top footballers and it’s never going to end’; they never had a vision that one day they were going to wake up and no more be needed. We’ve played a few Legends games, and the players got about R1000.00 and the guys look at this R1000.00 and they haven’t seen this amount for years. And of course a lot of them have taken to drinking which is very sad. When you hear people say, ‘Have you seen so and so? He is drinking like a fish…’ It’s very sad.

You have just returned from the Bafana game against Nigeria (SA 0 – 1). Bafana Bafana seem to have gone backwards since they won the Cup of Nations in 1996, why do you think that is?

There are a lot of aspects we could look at, but that’s going to take the whole day. Hiring and firing coaches; signing on coaches that bring a different culture, instead of appointing coaches that understand the mentality of the players; then the players themselves – they don’t come through a development system like they have in other countries, like Argentina. There they form a family instead of, ‘a team for the weekend’. I mean over the years Bafana Bafana has always formed, ‘a team for the weekend’. I mean, I think everyone in this country has a cap for Bafana – if you can kick a ball you have a cap. I think there is no longer pride or an understanding that it is a privilege, not a right, to wear the National jersey. I think that is why we hear of financial discussions before the guys go out and kick the ball. I mean there was that embarrassing African Nations Cup where we couldn’t score a goal. Not even an off-side goal! Probably the biggest problem is we don’t have developmental structures with a vision of what we want to achieve.

To digress from soccer – I believe your son is head boy at St John’s College. How do you feel about that given that you couldn’t have attended that school because of the colour of your skin?

I simply feel so proud that I could give him an opportunity I never got. And he, Masego is helping me with my bad English (laughs). He says, ‘Dad it’s not pronounced “gigantic,” but “jigantic”‘ (laughs).

Is he a sportsman?

Yes – he plays rugby, he plays golf and he plays cricket at school. His best is golf – he is a scratch or minus one… yes I’m very proud of him. And strangely my eldest boy, Katlego is a top snowboarder. He was also a St John’s pupil. When he was seventeen I told him to get out of soccer because he wasn’t good enough. He tried rugby at Wits, but got concussed. Now he is a top snowboarder. Two years ago he competed in the snowboarding world cup. When he first told me what he was doing, I had to ask him, ‘what is it?’ (Laughs).

If soccer didn’t exist, what sport could you have excelled at?

Athletics – I was in our school 4 x 100m relay team and we dominated the Soweto schools.

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