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Tavern Talk: The Coach Fainted In The Dressing Room

Joel Seroba, a striker with a good eye for goal in his heyday, started his career at the now defunct Real Rovers in 1995 and played for a total of 10 clubs.
He also received some call-ups to Bafana Bafana, having made a name for himself at Dynamos under the guidance of Jacob Sakala. He reveals, “The PSL needs coaches like Sakala. I’d like to be an assistant coach to that man one day.” Having hung up his boots in 2007 after a spell with Black Leopards, ‘Fire’ spends most of his days playing dice on the streets of Jo’burg.
Fire, you’re such a hard person to get hold of, but it’s nice to see you’re still around.
Ha, ha, ha, I’m always out playing dice and even my wife will tell you that’s why you can’t get hold of me. You know, the other day I was with Goodman Hlongwane and we were talking about football in general and he asked me why I’m no longer involved in football. I told him it’s because of politics in our game. I’d really love to go back to football because of the experience I have gained playing for different teams in the NSL and PSL.
I especially had a great time at teams that I played for in Limpopo. Let me first talk about Ivan Zwane. His elder brother, Arthur Zwane, brought him straight to me at Dynamos and said, “Lentwana uyiphathe kahle (take care of this boy), Fire.” I see in Soccer Laduma Ivan refuses to admit that he once scored an own goal. But I know he did, ha, ha, ha. He was crying in the dressing room and Jacob Sakala said, “We need men here, not kids.” We were playing against Wits and our goalkeeper was Collen Makhanya, who was Ivan’s best friend. I remember during that time Wits hadn’t conceded in 10 consecutive games and I was the first player to break that record in that game, which ended 2-2.
I played with Abram ‘Rambo’ Khwenenyane at Ria Stars and he was my main man, as he was part of the group that played dice in the team. We would go into our room with the likes of Thapelo Liau, Sydney Moshikaro, Andries Sebola and Thembinkosi Biyela and gamble like nobody’s business. Besishay’ i lala-vuka (we did an evening and morning session of dice) together and that was our way of motivating ourselves, especially before big matches.
The only person who knew we played dice was our coach, Kenny Ndlazi. The only thing he wanted was results, but if it happened that we didn’t get results, he’d go up to management and tell them, “These guys aren’t sleeping at night. They play dice.” Ha, ha, ha. That old man used to cry in the dressing room when things were not going well for us. But look, we were cracking jokes and we were like friends. If you notice, Ria Stars was a club of ‘foreigners’. There were no Pietersburg players in the starting line-up, as it was dominated by players from Jo’burg. On the field we spoke the same language.
I remember the one time we were playing Kaizer Chiefs at Johannesburg Stadium in the Rothmans Cup. Frank Makua and the late Thabang Lebese came up to me and said, “Fire, sekuntswempu (it’s hard now). Make a plan.” We played one touch, two touches among ourselves and scored. We knocked Chiefs out of the competition. That was my most memorable game!
There must be a lot of funny stuff to share!
I played with Cyril Nzama at Bush Bucks and that guy was a character. Cyril talked a lot and we were always listening to him. At Real Rovers we had Gerald ‘Mgababa’ Raphahlela, who was just in a league of his own. He was older than most of us and he demanded respect from everyone. I played alongside Tebogo Moloi at Manning Rangers and I’m surprised when I see him quiet on the Pirates bench because he was forever talking.
He would crack jokes and, I’m telling you, he’s one person who knows a lot of different languages. There was David Modise and Moeneeb Josephs at Cape Town Spurs. There were a few funny incidents at Dynamos. I recall after the one game we lost against Santos, our club boss Pat Malabela went on radio and said that we were drinking and busy with women in Giyani, while the team was losing. Sakala was the one who got us into trouble. He told us straight after the game, “Hayi bafethu, we’ve never been beaten 3-0 at home before. So you can go and drink.” Ha, ha, ha. That guy was very funny.
He was building but, at the same time, destroying. If he promised to play you, he would instruct his assistant coach Steve Komphela to call out the starting line-up to the players before the game and then he would go outside. When he came back and you gave him a funny look, he would say, “It’s him that put you out. He selected the team while I had gone to the toilet.” Ha, ha, ha. I used to be introduced in the second half of the game, so the one time I came late to training and Sakala asked, “Why are you late?” I said, “No, I play 45 minutes, so I want to train 45 minutes.” He said, “Are you crazy?”
Ha, ha, ha.
I remember at one stage we lost three games in succession and we were going to play against Moroka Swallows at Rand Stadium. Before the game, Sakala pretended that he was sick and Malabela said, “Whether you are sick or not, I want results!” Swallows were leading 2-0 at halftime and in the change room continued faking illness and actually fainted! We went back and scored two goals.
In the dying minutes, we scored the winning goal and, after the game, Sakala woke up and said, “Yazi uma nginani bafethu, angekhe ngilahlekelwe ngumsebenzi.” (You know with you guys on my side, I’ll never lose my job.) Malabela was a good guy and a friend of mine. He’d let me know about everything that was happening at the club, like if there was no money and players wouldn’t be able to get their salaries.
But I couldn’t tell the players because they wouldn’t want to play! I kept it to myself, as if I didn’t know anything. There was a bonus structure – R2 000 for beating Chiefs, Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns and R1 000 for beating the likes of Swallows and Ajax Cape Town. At one stage we played seven games unbeaten and he was complaining, saying we were winning too much and finishing his money, ha, ha, ha. Can you imagine that?
Tavern Talk Fun Facts:
Best player I’ve ever faced: Thabo Mooki
Best player I’ve played with: Alex Bapela
Biggest pay cheque: R40 000
Smallest pay cheque: R500
Former team that used the most muti: Black Leopards
Favourite current player: David Mathebula & Jabulani Maluleke
Current occupation: Unemployed
Former teams: Real Rovers, Manning Rangers, Bush Bucks, Cape Town Spurs, Hellenic, Ria Stars, Dynamos, Silver Stars, Black Leopards, Moroka Swallows
Tavern Talk Flashback
“He was a good guy. The only problem is that he loved playing dice like nobody’s business. Whenever he got paid, he would go out and gamble and then the next day at training you’d see he wasn’t happy, probably because he had lost all his money on dice. Other than that, he was a fun person and he played good football. He used to do all the tricks, score goals and even create for us. The strange thing though is that when he started the game, he would get tired in the first 15 minutes of the second half.” 

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