I was fortunate enough to witness former legendary Mamelodi Sundowns coach Stanley “ Screamer” Tshabalala mesmerising the crowds with his amazing football skills, standing on top of the ball and screaming. His great footwork were no doubt an asset for his teams, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
People who followed him through his career, mentioned that Orlando Preston Brothers and in Alexandra for Fighters FC, fans always keenly waited for Tshabalala to turn on the style, skill and of screaming during the game, hence the nickname Screamer. I also saw him playing at Kaizer XI later Kaizer Chiefs in the late 70’s.
He later coached Jomo Cosmos and Giant Blackpool in the mid 80’s. I had never thought I could end up being closer to him, walk side by side with him as he honed his coaching career all the later years, particularly at Mamelodi Sundowns in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Recently had lunch with him at the Killarney Mall as we went down the memory lane, we mainly focused on the football in the past, we also touched little things like the yellow Peugeot 404 he used to drive, Colt Gallant 2600 I drove, the Book Shop and Swarma Shop we used to visit in Hillbrow.
Also our physical training at Zuurbekom and Orlando Stadium. Those were the good old days. Hillbrow became a popular winding down place for dedicated footballers where they bought overseas football magazines and newspapers or watching games at the hotel, in a effort to sharpen their skills. Footballers were hungry for knowledge, to improve their understanding of the game and took fitness very seriously.
Screamer influenced a lot of us to visit these areas during our off days hence myself, Pitso Mosimane, Harold Jazzy Queen Legodi, Ace Khuse, Rabbi Moripe just to mention a few frequented these places.
I remember vividly how I met this football legend together with the late Coloured Passmore in December 1985, at corner Harrison and Bree in Johannesburg who later lured me to join big spender, Mamelodi Sundowns which was owned by a Soweto tycoon, Zola Mahobe.
The Johannesburg city center was the place where most people met particularly around lunch time.
Tshabalala and Passmore were there to convey a message from Mahobe who was affectionately known as “Ophethe insimbi” meaning, one who is financially loaded.
They told me Mahobe would like to sign me and will ‘look after me”. During that time I was playing for Wits University, a predominantly white club in those days and contemplating to move to a predominantly black club. I knew Tshabalala had recommended me to Mahobe, even Passmore was advising me to go to Sundowns. It was not surprising a coach and owner of Giant Blackpool to advise me to go to another club other than his, as I had known them closely from the early 80’s, they were bigger brothers who cared about me more than themselves.
Although it would be Jabu “Nyambose”Mthethwa , a Senaoane friend and businessman who would pick me up (in Tshiawelo at our vegetable business station with my partner and friend Sam Muofhe) to a meeting with Mahobe along the way Mthethwa persuaded me to join Sundowns, Tshabalala technically advised me to go to Sundowns. Tshabalala’s nickname was “Nigger”was becoming more common even though I had heard it earlier at Passmore’s spray painting shop in Dobsonville with abo Keke, Kufu, Tshatsha, Maraba, Les, Jeff Maswekameng, Bra Za, Bra Titos, Bra Mbuzana to mention a few. Nigger was a popular nickname used by black players who had a stint in the US. The likes of Jomo Sono, Ace Ntsoelengoe, Webster Lichabe, Kenneth “ The Horse” Mokgojoa, Andries “Six Mabone” Maseko, Johannes Yster Khomane, Martin Cohen, Rodney Bush, including Tshabalala were amongst players who plied their trades in the US.
I still call him Bra Nigger in remembrance of our meeting with Passmore and other Bra’s as they were older the me, hence i had to call them Bra. Yes there were his lieutenants at Sundowns like Trott Moloto and Spear Makhoba and a lot in Orlando east, west and extension guys including those in Pretoria including Sono who still call him “Nigger”.
In 1984 Bra Big Joe Matimba and Bra Fish Kekana(both late, may their souls rest in peace) visited my family to try and lure me to Sundowns at the time when Sundowns did not have money. They arrived at home when there was a church service conducted by Reverend “12/ 12” who got this name that the church finishes at 12 minutes after midnight. I walked out bare feet, it is AmaZion culture to take off shoes whenever you enter the church. It was quite awkward but we quickly agreed that I would come to their game on Sunday as Wits was playing on Saturday. I did honour the appointment with my friend Sam Muofhe and we were well looked after. Bra Joe and Bra Fish did play a role but It was in 1985 after meeting Tshabalala’s that I took his advice to join Sundowns.
In January 1986, I arrived at Sundowns with my friends and other very good players like Samuel “Ewe” Khambule, Mark Anderson, Pitso Mosimane, Mike Mangena, William Zondi, just to mention a few. The coach was Ben Segale and Tshabalala was still at Giant Blackpool. There was a lot of good players at Sundowns like Walter Kutumela, Go Mabusela, Bashin Mahlangu, Basil Steenkamp and many more. Around end of April, the coach was changed and Tshabalala was brought in as the replacement. That was the beginning of the resurgence of Sundowns
Although there were times that Tshabalala and I never saw things the same way when he arrived but we built a stronger bond later on, between 1986-1991 at Sundowns until now. Hence I can categorically say that the seven titles which Sundowns won during these years, was because of Tshabalala’s influence, yes he left towards end of 1988 and was back in 1990.
Let me talk about what Tshabalala brought to Sundowns namely a playing style commonly known as “Piano and Shoeshine”. I would do an injustice as what Shoeshine and Piano is because the best person to do that is Tshabalala himself, in brief, Shoeshine and Piano is the type and style of beautiful football starting from the back through the midfield to the strikers.
It came after sportswear brand Kappa, the then technical sponsor of both Chiefs and Sundowns. Kappa was owned by the Casaletti family of Rob, Emmy and Vivian, took Screamer to Italy and visited AC Milan and Juventus.
Upon returning from that trip Tshabalala brought the type of football enjoyed by all people, it was unbelievable and the results were there, even beat with style the then giants of SA football; Pirates, Chiefs and Swallows. This style attracted a lot of supporters from all over but more in Mamelodi where it brought a lot of excitement and happiness. Mahobe a boy from Soweto, wanted to make Sundowns not only a Mamelodi team but also the top team competing with South African giants and also when the Krok brothers( Abe and Solly) and Patrice Motsepe came, they further confirmed with action and resources that Sundowns becomes a successful and plays beautiful football.
I hope one day Tshabalala and Mahobe like what the Krok brothers, Tsiclas famiy, Mosimane and Motsepe have done for Sundowns will be honoured and given the freedom of the township of Mamelodi for what they contributed to this glorious club and its community.
Tshabalala is now the Technical Director of Orlando Pirates FC.
Mike Ntombela former wits and Sundowns player owns Mike Ntombela Sports Management and he writes in his personal capacity www.mikentombelasports.co.za