So, another Peter is retiring from Soccer Laduma! This time, it’s Peter Raath, who worked as a freelance journalist, covering mostly the second tier of South African soccer with his weekly GladAfrica Championship Focus segment, which has predominantly allowed up-and-coming youngsters to open up about their dreams and aspirations.
Firstly, I’d like to thank our editor, Vuyani Joni, for giving me the opportunity to showcase my skills with the pen over many years. He and Lunga Adam, whom I reported to after initially being given the go-ahead by Clint Roper, believed that I could do this important work and I’m eternally grateful for that because it’s given me an insight into the vast array of untapped football talent which our country possesses.
Interviewing the likes of Andile Mbenyane, Gift Motupa, Thabiso Kutumela, Fagrie Lakay, Ebrahim Seedat, Marc van Heerden, Kyle Peters, Sedwyn George, Iqraam Rayners, Tapelo Nyongo (now Xoki), Dillon Goss, Bayzel Goldstone, Levy Mashiane, Luvuyo Memela, Richard Matloga, Innocent Maela, Msekeli Mvalo, Siphelele Ntshangase, Jesse Donn, Terrence Mashego, Jody February and Grant Margeman, amongst a huge list of others, was a wonderful experience.
In keeping with Soccer Laduma’s tradition of recording exactly what each player said to avoid any nasty comebacks, I often felt thrilled when certain youngsters showed appreciation upon publication. On the coaching and technical front, I’ve made many a friend over the seasons and could rely on the honesty of men such as Shaun Bartlett, Thulani Nkosi, Ashwin Sutton, Shepherd Murape, Julius Dube, Bradley August, Duncan Lechesa, Morena Ramoreboli, Sello Chokoe, Clint Larsen, Brandon Truter, Steve Barker, Milton Dlamini, Duran Francis, Japhet Borges, Zeca Marques, David Notoane, Riedoh Berdien, Mlungisi “Professor” Ngubane, Johnny Ferreira and the late Mark Byrne. It was the same with Pitso Dladla and Ron Gabriel, until the pair suddenly went quiet upon arrival at Richards Bay FC!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with people of integrity in this sport. When Vasco da Gama were a force to be reckoned with, many of you will recall meeting me at Parow Park, or at the Woodstock Holiday Inn, where I sometimes had breakfast with teams before getting down to the nitty-gritty of chatting to an individual. I’ll never forget Vasco winning promotion to the topflight after overpowering Black Leopards. Even the Brazilian press were there! One particular man that I have great respect for in this regard is Dr Ephraim Jomo Sono, who always made time for me no matter what, and I treasure the moments I had with one of South Africa’s most interesting characters.
But being briefly banned from my beloved Parow by Cape Town All Stars wasn’t nice, nor did I enjoy it when the boss of the now-defunct FC Cape Town, Errol Dicks, decided that he didn’t want me near the NNK RFC Stadium. Fortunately, friends paved the way for my return to those venues.
About 20 years ago, when I lived in England – the country of my birth – Charlton Athletic FC, who’ve had South Africans on their books since the late 1940s, gave me permission to attend their training sessions, which included chatting to Bartlett and Mark Fish. During this era, I also made contact with many other local players plying their trades in the UK and Europe. When Dean Furman was a teenager at Chelsea, he featured in Soccer Laduma, while other well-known legends like Matthew Booth, Aaron Mokoena and Macbeth Sibaya were also interviewed by none other than yours truly.
Furthermore, I managed to track down England’s 1966 World Cup-winning hero, the late Gordon Banks, who spoke about his so-called “save of the century” when he managed to keep the ball out of the net from Brazil’s famous Pele.
Banks, of course, had played for Hellenic in 1971 and was amongst a long list of superb overseas stars to have graced our game. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to his English compatriot, Johnny Haynes, known for his devastatingly accurate passes in the colours of the defunct Durban City.
In more recent times, with the help of my Brazilian wife, Alessandra, who has always supported me, either by taking photographs or translating during interviews with Portuguese-speaking Brazilian footballers, Soccer Laduma also spoke to dribbling wizard Jair Ventura Filho (Jairzinho) about his short-term contract at the mighty Kaizer Chiefs in 1975 under coach Eddie Lewis. These world-renowned legends illustrated such humbleness in their willingness to appear in Africa’s most-read soccer publication.
At one point, I flew back to Cape Town to meet up with Soccer Laduma’s erstwhile Editorial Director, Peter du Toit, which eventually paved the way for my return to Mzansi and with it the chance to get more involved in the professional game that I’d followed since a child in the early 1960s. It was a real honour when Soccer Laduma asked me to head up their Blue Ribbon Bread SA Soccer Hall of Fame Collection. Besides tracking down almost 70 ex-pros, many of whom had earned a pittance in the 1970s and 1980s whilst on the books of Amakhosi, Moroka Swallows, Orlando Pirates etc, I’d rush to buy bread in an effort to collect as many legends’ stickers as possible. Actually, many years ago, I did the same when Coca-Cola issued a series of bottle cap prints featuring our soccer heroes - so I was back in my element! For the Blue Ribbon series, I also cherish my acquaintance with the likes of “Jingles” Pereira, Mark Williams, Jan “Malombo” Lechaba, Marks “Go Man Go” Maponyane, Johannes “Ryder” Mofokeng, Neil Tovey, Arthur “10111” Zwane, Zebulon “Sputla” Nhlapo, John “Shoes” Moshoeu, Jimmy “Brixton Towers” Joubert, Shane MacGregor, Zane Moosa, Jerry “Jairzinho” Sadike, Linda “Mercedes Benz” Buthelezi, Isaac “Shakes” Kungwane and Fani “Didiza” Madida. Some of these former stars are not with us anymore but will forever remain close to Soccer Laduma and myself for many years to come. The soccer fraternity, including Bafana Bafana stars, might too recall me as an autograph hunter – something quite rare in this country, especially in soccer, but very popular in the UK. I’d hang around the lounges of hotels or ask players to sign when their bus arrived at a stadium.
Returning to the subject of our second tier, although our game has improved in leaps and bounds, what’s perturbing is that clubs with fantastic histories are just disappearing. Having grown up in KwaZulu-Natal, the first one that comes to mind is African Wanderers, formed in 1906. They didn’t reach their centenary year, nor did Bidvest Wits. I remember interviewing staff from outfits such as Nathi Lions, Durban Stars, Avendale Atletico, FC Fortune, Park United, Carara Kicks, FC AK, Atlie United, Witbank Spurs, Real Kings and Mbombela United - yet sadly they are no more!
Last but not least, I’d like to wish Soccer Laduma and the person who’s potentially going to replace me all the best going forward. Besides Vuyani Joni, Lunga Adam and Clint Roper, I’ve also worked closely with Eddie Martinuzzi, when writing Siyagobhoza stories, Brent Smith and Ryan Mento in production, Joanne Wheal and Andries Venter from finance, as well as many others. Although I wrote from home, I’d often pop into Soccer Laduma, which began life in a tiny Sea Point office but has grown into a much larger media house with a great future. I’m going to miss everyone!