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Sono - From Peanuts To Pele

Matsilele Ephraim ‘Jomo’ Sono is considered as one of the best forwards ever produced in South Africa.

He inherited his sporting genes from his father, the late Bamuza Eric ‘Scara’, and bagged around 200 pro­fessional goals – while at the same time he became famous for his using unique dribbling and shooting skills.

Jomo enjoyed some phenomenal moments in his career, including playing in the USA for New York Cosmos where he teamed up with the iconic Brazilian Pelé.

It is hard to imagine those heights while listening to his journey to the top – as the Jomo Cosmos FC owner struggled during his early life, considering that to pay for his schooling, he sold sweets and peanuts outside the Natalspruit Grounds where his dad once starred, dreaming of the day when he would follow in his father’s footsteps.

But he chose to dream and achieved his goals thanks to hard work and dedi­cation. His first break came in a game between Orlando Pirates and Orlando Happy Hearts jun­ior teams at the old Orlando Stadium, where after coming on as a late substitute, he netted the winner and joined the Buc­caneers’ junior set-up soon after.

In November 1971, just after his 16th birthday, Sono netted a brace on debut for Orlando Pirates during a 7-3 friendly win over Kagiso Hot Beans. Thirteen days later, his team was crowned National Professional Soccer League champions, and the versatile player grabbed his first hat trick in mid-1972 when Bucs pulverised Nigel United Buccaneers 5-0 at Boipatong.

In fact, there was no stopping the man with the golden touch. Wherever he played, fans were stunned by his awesome touches, superb dribbling ability and fine finishing.

In 1973 he represented the SA Black XI that narrowly lost 3-2 to the touring British All Stars. This was a poignant moment in the 111 year history of SA soccer because never before had a UK team faced a black side in the country nor for that matter, had a white foreign side ever ventured into Soweto.

In early 1974 when the Sea Robbers clinched the ‘Super Team Series’ by hammering Western Province XI 9-0 at Hartleyvale, the teenager was on the receiving end of raptures of ap­plause, with fans shouting, ‘Pelé, Pelé’, after he opened the scoring in the fifth minute of play. At that time, nobody knew he would eventually be brushing shoulders with the Brazilian legend.

Destined for a bigger stage, Jomo continued showcasing his extraordinary ability to the world and made headlines when he powered the first-ever multi-racial team assembled in SA to a famous 5-0 win over an Argentine XI at the Rand Sta­dium on 16 March 1976, by scoring four of their goals and scooping the Man of the Match award.

Offers flew in from abroad, including from Portuguese giants Sporting Libson, but he would eventually move to North America as a 21-year-old in 1977, where he became an instant hit.

His reception was phenomenal, with American press labelling him as “A Successor to Pelé” and “Possibly the most talented player to come out of Africa since Eusebio”.

After a remarkable professional career in football, Jomo hung up his boots but his career was far from over as he turned his attention to the Highlands Park franchise he bought for R100 000 in January 1983. The team was originally called Dion Cosmos, but in 1984 it changed to the name that still stands today, Jomo Cosmos.

Previously, Jomo also coached the South African national team, where he took the side to a runners-up finish in the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations, and also led the troops at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.

Soccer-Laduma and Hansa salute a legend of South African football and one of the country's most successful businessmen. Check out Hansa's amazing tribute here.


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