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Tavern Talk: I Saw A Fat Lady Sangoma!

‘Mr Fitness’ is best remembered for rescuing the likes of Black Leopards, Moroka Swallows and Dynamos from relegation.

He has been around in South Africa, but had a short stint with Swazi side Mbabane Swallows. He reveals, “I’m a youngster, a baby. You mellow with age and I feel I still have something to contribute to professional football in this country.”

Walter, let’s wind back the clock and talk about the days when muti was a big thing in SA football.

Thanks, Lunga. I had many funny situations with muti. I never believed in it, but I never stopped the players if they believed in it. I told the officials, “If you want muti, don’t use it in front of me. I don’t want to see it.” Nearly every team I coached used muti and the worst was Moroka Swallows.

David Chabeli believed in it. There was AmaZulu and African Wanderers. I’ll tell you one funny story. It was at Dangerous Darkies in Nelspruit. They signed two white players from Jo’burg...one was Lebanese and the other Portuguese. We played Orlando Pirates and it was an important game. The club officials told me, “We need the players. It’s for muti.” They took them from the hotel and when they came back, the players told me, “They made us jump in a river.” I said fine.

But I told the officials, “But don’t use muti on the ground. I’m preparing the team to win. We’re training hard.” At the stadium I was busy talking to Pirates coach, the late Walter da Silva, and about an hour before the game, I went back to the change room. It was locked. I said, “Open the change room, my players are waiting for me.” The officials said, “Wait, wait, coach, you can’t go in there.” I said, “Are you mad? Why can’t I go in?” So I kicked the door open and there came a cloud of dagga and burnt rubbish! You couldn’t even see, you couldn’t breathe! The players’ eyes were red, ha, ha. I looked for my two white players. I asked, “Where are my two white players? It’s their first game, I have to talk to them.” Nobody knew where they were. When I went to the toilet, I saw them lying there, completely knocked out! They couldn’t even play. They were so sick because of the dagga and the muti, ha, ha, ha.

Sure, Mr Fitness! Please go on...

After training, they made the players jump into a small basin with all the muti, chicken and rubbish. The biggest scene of muti I’ve seen in my life was at Swallows when we played Dynamos in a relegation game. The match was televised. I came early to the ground.

The game was starting at 15h00 and by 12h00 I was there. When I went to George Goch Stadium, the security guards didn’t want me to come in, and I said, “What’s wrong with you? Why shouldn’t I go in? I’m your home coach. Are you mad?” So I pushed through and when I went up the field, I saw a lady sangoma, a very fat one, sitting with her bum on the halfway line and rubbing muti into the ground. Ha, ha, ha! It was the best picture. I wish I had a camera so I could sell it overseas for billions! Ha, ha, ha!

There is another story with Swallows. We went to Cape Town to play Seven Stars. It was freezing. We went to the stadium and my team wasn’t there. I asked myself, “Where are the players? Where is our team?” You know how these officials pretend they don’t know.

Ten minutes before kickoff, the players showed up, shivering! They were wet, wet, wet! I said, “What is this?” They said, “No, they made us jump in the bathroom into the basin with our kit on. That’s why we’re late and that’s why we’re cold.” I said, “We can’t play like this!” We had to ask the referee not to start the game and we had to ask the opposition to lend us the kit to play in. Swallows were fined a lot of money by the league. 

Okay. Tell us about your time in Venda.

In Venda they still call me the Lion of the North. I coached three teams there. I went to Rabali Blackpool. Remember when Gora Ebrahim kicked me in front of the TV cameras? He attacked me because of muti. I think he took something wrong because he didn’t know where he was and when we substituted him he just came and kicked me, ha, ha.

Have you spoken to him after that incident?

No, but I don’t blame the boy. I was sitting in the grandstand with the fans. It was very, very hot that day and I think he took something wrong. I liked him very much, he was a very nice person and I even made him captain. What happened on that day is that after 10 minutes he mis-kicked all the balls.

It was an important game for Rabali Blackpool as we were fighting relegation. The supporters, players and my assistant coach were urging me to take him off. He was falling over his own feet! I told my assistant coach on the bench, “Look, take Gora off, let’s replace him.”

They took him off and when he went off the field, he kicked the water bottles. It was terrible. So I shouted to him, “Cool it! Cool it! Go to the change room.” Suddenly he walked towards me and I thought he wanted to talk to me. Suddenly I got the boots and the studs in my stomach. I had broken ribs and fractured lungs. It was a bad injury! If he apologised, I would buy him a Coca-Cola, take him out to lunch and shake hands with him.

Good to hear...

But in any case, Venda was like my second home. The people in Venda loved me and I loved them. Leopards had no chance to win any game when I came there. They were bottom of the log and had rejects from other clubs. I was unbeaten in 13 games and I made the Thohoyandou Stadium full in every game.

I also helped Dynamos for a while and then of course Leopards, which is the biggest wonder job I ever did. When Leopards called me, there were troubles in the camp, the players were not paid and they had fired six coaches before me. I thought it was a difficult job but because I loved Venda I accepted it.

We remember that! Wonderful!

I remember one time after beating Swallows 3-0 in the Absa Cup, one of the radio reporters called me the next morning and said, “Walter, we love you in Venda.” I said, “I know that, so what?” He said, “No, you’re increasing the population in Venda.” I asked, “Why?” He answered, “When you beat all these teams 3-0, the people are so happy they go home and make babies.” Ha, ha, ha! I’ve always been a people’s coach. Some of the coaches are big-headed.

They come with suits and ties. I was there in my shorts and my shirt like a player, like a supporter, you know. You have to celebrate with the supporters. That makes them happy. Why must I feel I’m a big man? I love soccer and I was born on a soccer field in Austria!

Tavern of Legends Fun Facts:

Best player I’ve ever coached: Sibusiso Dlamini

Best team I’ve ever faced: Kaizer Chiefs in the 70s

Best stadium: George Goch Stadium, ‘the graveyard’

Worst stadium: Independence Stadium

Former team that uses the most muti: Moroka Swallows

Current occupation: Coaching youngsters and running coaching clinics

Teams coached: Rabali Blackpool, Tembisa Classic, Moroka Swallows, Black Leopards, Dynamos, African Wanderers, Bloemfontein Celtic, AmaZulu, Benoni United, Witbank Aces, PUBS, Dangerous Darkies, PJ Stars, Ga-Rankuwa United, Value Rockets (Vodacom League), Mbabane Swallows (Swaziland)

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