Soccer historians have often claimed that Durban was once the home of South African football. Indisputably, it still is. History tells us that the game was first introduced to the Eastern Cape by the Scots and was brought to Natal (now KwaZulu- Natal) by British troops in the 1880s. The earliest Soccer Clubs in Durban dates back to around 1886. This could explain why Durban continues to produce players of high calibre, many of whom now play for top European sides.
At domestic Premiership level, however, soccer in Durban is a sport under siege. Two of our oldest and best-supported teams, African Wanderers and AmaZulu, seem to be finding it difficult to stay in top-flight football for longer than one season.
Why should this be so? Surely Durbanites take pride in seeing the likes of Siyabonga Nomvete, Delron Buckley, Japhet Zwane, Sibusiso Zuma, George Koumantarakis, MacBeth Sibaya and Sean Dundee rubbing shoulders with the big names in the game?
Those who supported soccer in Durban between the 1960s and 1980s will agree that many more players would have made it big in Europe had the country’s political situation allowed. Grounds like the Currie’s Fountain Stadium, eMsizini, Glebelands, Princess Magogo and SJ Smith were the football mecca’s to which players like Excellent Mthembu, Dharam Mohan, Sugar Singh, Cedric “Sugar Ray” Xulu and others attracted thousands of eager fans. Players of this ilk certainly had the potential to become international stars.
Our tradition of producing fine players continues but, sadly, Durban’s list of soccer exports grows each year.
The latest player to depart our shores is Umlazi-born Zwane, who now plays for Rostelsmash in the Russian First Division. Not many could have imagined that the once skinny, left-footed Zwane would go so far with his awkward-to-mark style of football. When he joined Manning Rangers from First Division side Phoenix City, Zwane was no doubt a future Premiership star, but it must have come as a surprise to many of his detractors to find that a good showing at Moroka Swallows could land him a contract in Europe.
Nomvete’s tenure since last season with the Italian outfit, Udinese, has not been quite as rosy, due in part to injury. The former Wanderers and Kaizer Chiefs marksman is still suffering from injuries sustained eight months ago, soon after joining the Series A side. Affectionately known as ‘Bhele,’ the KwaMashu-born star is only the fifth South African to play in this highly-regarded league. His predecessors were Mark Fish, Philemon Masinga, Eric Tinkler and David Nyathi.
Although Bhele didn’t make a great impact as a striker on the Bafana Bafana side, the speedy goal poacher has a World Cup goal to his credit and featured in the national Under 23 side which played in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Barring any further injuries or mishaps, Nomvete has the talent to make Durban proud in the highly competitive environment of European football.
A player who has never failed to impress is Mpumalanga (Hammarsdale) born Sibusiso Zuma, whose name has become so popular in Danish football, you’d swear he was born there. Incidentally, Zuma and Nomvete formed a deadly strike force for Durban’s Wanderers before moving to greener pastures via Johannesburg.
Not only has Zuma become a key Bafana player, but his club, FC Copenhagen’s success in recent years has been attributed largely to his contribution. The immensely talented right winger has become the darling of Copenhagen’s soccer fans, not only for his high work rate but also for his spectacular flip-flap celebration after scoring a goal. The 28-year-old has also represented his side in the EUFA Champions League. It’s little wonder English giants, Arsenal, are showing interest.
Zuma’s hometown friend, MacBeth Sibaya, is another player who looks set to go far with his rare, steady midfield work.
Sibaya, who now plays for Russia’s Rubin Kazan, was a late inclusion in the Bafana side that played in last year’s World Cup but has now established himself as a backbone in Shakes Mashaba’s team. Before joining Kazan, Sibaya was with Rosenborg in Norway.
Not many know that Delron Buckley left Sydenham as a young man to seek greener pastures in Germany. When his name comes up, some refer to him as a ‘palooka,’ but that doesn’t dampen the spirit of the VFL Bochum left-winger whenever he dons the Bafana shirt.
Koumantarakis was one of the reasons Durban made history for producing the team (Rangers) that won the inaugural Premier Soccer League title in the 1996/97 season. The lanky striker, who plays for Preston North End in the English First Division, finished that season as the leading goal scorer, before joining SuperSport United and thereafter Swiss club FC Basel.
It might be true that Sean Dundee is a naturalised German, but his roots will always be planted in Durban, where he was born and played successfully for a number of amateur teams.
In the final analysis, the world is one great football field. We might not be able to offer sufficiently attractive contracts to keep top local players in KZN, but we’re still more than proud, when we see them on TV, to say ‘That’s a homeboy!’