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Gone But Not Forgotten...'Tough'

Soccer Laduma and Sanlam Sky pay homage to South Africa’s great players and coaches who were taken before their time. While they may be gone, their exploits on the field of play will never be forgotten! 
 
This week we celebrate the life and career of the late, great Clifford Moleko... 
 
A tough tackler who won Bucs fans’ hearts
 
He might have been a middle-aged central midfielder, but at 28, he was regarded as somewhat of a youngster in South African terms back in those days, and was idolised by many an Orlando Pirates supporter. Clifford Moleko joined the Soweto giants from Jomo Cosmos and, in the three years he spent at the club, became a hit with the fans, largely for his robust play and tough-tackling nature in the middle of the park. Not many players join Pirates, or any of the so-called ‘Big Three’, and immediately make an impact, but Moleko proved to be an exception to the rule. What seems to have helped his cause is that he was surrounded by players of great quality who had a big match temperament. Memorably, his combination with John Moeti is considered one of the best the club has ever had and, according to many, has only really been matched by that of Andile Jali and Oupa Manyisa in recent times.
 
Although Moleko was more of a defensive midfielder, he was equally adept going forward. He was a hard-running player who linked up well with the likes of Dumisa Ngobe, Brandon Silent and Jerry Sikhosana, and those who went into a tackle with him often came off worse for wear. Bucs saw potential in him, hence he was sent out to the Gavin Hunt-led Seven Stars on a season-long deal to help him become a better player.  
 
A dream crushed by a car crash
 
The sad thing about road accidents is that none of us is immune to them, not even a top footballer at the prime of his career! On the morning of 3 February 1998, the South African football fraternity woke up to the sad news of Moleko’s passing. The news was followed by shock and disbelief. It was only two days prior that Moleko had helped Seven Stars defeat Moroka Swallows 1-0 in a league encounter at George Goch Stadium, this while he was on loan at the Cape Town-based club from Pirates. According to reports at the time, the midfielder was on his way to the Johannesburg International Airport to catch a flight back to Cape Town, where he was to rejoin his teammates for the first training session of that week after having stayed behind in Jo’burg to visit his family.
 
He had tried to avoid a truck and lost control of his car. Unfortunately, Moleko died on the spot, with his brother, a passenger in the vehicle, sustaining minor injuries. Like most players who emerged from disadvantaged backgrounds, Moleko had dreams to represent his country and scale greater heights in the game. Yet, his death behind the wheel dashed those aspirations and meant the public would never really know how far he could have gone in his career. When his teammates and dignitaries from local football came to pay their last respects at Moleko’s funeral at Moletsane Stadium in Soweto and his coffin was lowered to the ground, it finally sank in that the carnage on our public roads had once again unexpectedly snatched a bright talent from our midst. Sohlala Sikukhumbula, Clifford.   

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