Africa’s Greatest Football Clubs: Kaizer Chiefs
The history of Kaizer Chiefs reads like something of a myth. A beautiful club born out of an ugly situation and went on to become one of the greatest teams and brands in Africa. It is documented that during the latter years of the 1960s - an era wherein one, Kaizer Motaung, established himself as a star at parent club Orlando Pirates before jettisoning to USA soccer - internal strife brew in the Buccaneers hierarchy. This trickled down to the team and saw team manager Ewert Nene and three players, Thomas ‘Zero’ Johnson, Ratha Mogoathleng, Edward ‘Msomi’ Khoza expelled. Kaizer Motaung, who at this time in 1969 was now playing in the USA, in fine company of players like Pele, came back to the internal mayhem at his home club. Upon the realisation that the relationship between the club and the expelled members were beyond repair, Motaung took the bold step of birthing the club that was to become Kaizer Chiefs, starting with an experimental side called Kaizer XI, which included the expelled players from Orland Pirates. After a successful tour, something of a successful breakaway was achieved and Kaizer Chiefs was born. The date specifically was 7 January 1970. It is cited on the Kaizer Chiefs website that “It was far from plain sailing during the new club’s formative years. Many within the football fraternity viewed them as upstarts and did not want them to succeed. Fortunately, though, most of the players bought into Motaung’s vision of setting up a club that would be run professionally, and trusted his integrity. With the support of various business partners to supplement Motaung’s personal capital investment, Kaizer Chiefs soon became a force to be reckoned with, winning their first league title in 1974.”
Kaizer Chiefs grew very popular domestically, representing a breath of fresh for football lovers with their style that was fraught with flair. They were also cultural drivers, indexing the cool trend of growing and wearing Afros, as was popular in black America, with the club. Off the pitch, they would resemble hippies with their sartorial rebellion, adorning bellbottoms. This appealed to supporters and would be supporters far and wide. Amakhosi, as they were inevitably dubbed, accrued other nicknames and taglines such as “The (Phefeni) Glamour Boys” and the maxim “love and peace”, better phrased in Nguni languages as “Abafana bo’kuthula noxolo” which directly translates to “The boys of love and peace”. The 70s were crucial to the brand of Kaizer Chiefs, accumulating 13 trophies in that ten-year period, including 3 league titles. Despite its lofty status in South African football, Amakhosi remains the only team on the top 3 PSL teams sans the biggest continental football showpiece, the (CAF) Champions League, albeit winning its sister competition in 2001.
Kaizer Chiefs were a team in transition in 1980. As a result of this, only the Sales House Champion of Champions was won after beating Pubs (Pimville United Brothers) 3-1 over two legs in the final. Abednigo ‘Shaka’ Ngcobo and Simon ‘Bull’ Lehoko scored the goals for the Glamour Boys, while Pubs also added with an own goal. It was also the year that Vusi ‘Computer’ Lamola said goodbye to the club. The midfielder was one of the true greats in the history of the Amakhosi, thrilling two generations of fans with his vision, dribbling skills and excellent passing ability. It’s not for nothing that one of his alternate nicknames was ‘General’ – the one in charge of the midfield. The following season was one of the best in the history of Kaizer Chiefs when almost all trophies on offer were won. First of all, the league title was won in 1981, beating Highlands Park to second position by one point. Moreover, the Mainstay Cup, the BP Top 8 and the Sales House Champion of Champions were added to the trophy cabinet. Dynamos were humiliated over two legs in the BP Top 8 final, while Orlando Pirates were beaten 3-1 in the Mainstay Cup final. Patrick ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe, who was still shuttling backwards and forwards between America and South Africa, netted four times against Dynamos, while other goals were scored by Ngcobo (twice) and emerging young winger Zebulon ‘Sputla’ Nhlapo. Nelson ‘Teenage’ Dladla was in superb form that season and was voted as South Africa’s Footballer of the Year 1981. Others performing brilliantly were goalkeeper Peta Bala’c, who had replaced Joseph ‘Banks’ Sethlodi, and the midfielders Jan ‘Malombo’ Lechaba and Lucky Stylianou. Amakhosi missed out on the 1982 league title – finishing third – but they remained the knockout kings, retaining the Mainstay Cup, Sales House Champion of Champions and BP Top 8.
In 1984, Chiefs not only won the league title, but also the JPS Knockout Cup, the ‘Champ of Champs’ and the Mainstay Cup under Joe Frickleton. Frickleton’s abrasive methods, however, were not conducive to lasting success and a series of poor results in the 1985 season led to his resignation. But there was better news in 1986, thanks also to the arrival of Ted ‘Mr Magic’ Dumitru, who joined Amakhosi late 1985. The Romanian football manager became a legendary coach at Chiefs and in South Africa in general. Dumitru, who passed away in 2016, was an unfussy coach, who preferred to act rather than talk. He understood the culture of local football. The players respected him because he didn’t want to change their natural style of play. “Players are not robots,” the coach once said. “They cannot be directed how to play from the touchline. They need to have the freedom to do things their way while working within the framework of a collective team effort.” Chiefs won the JPS Knockout, National Panasonic Champion of Champions and the inaugural Iwisa Charity Cup. There was less success, however, in the league and the team had to settle for fourth spot. More success followed in 1987, as the Club won another four trophies (the BP Top 8, Iwisa Charity Cup, Ohlsson’s Challenge and Mainstay Cup). The league title, though, remained elusive. Amazingly, Chiefs had not been able to win the league title since the formation of the National Football League (NSL) in 1985. Soon, Jeff Butler took over the coaching reigns at Chiefs, helping the club to another trophy, winning the JPS Knockout after beating Jomo Cosmos 3-1 in the final. The league title was, however, finally won for the first time in the NSL era in 1989, after Amakhosi finished one point ahead of Orlando Pirates. Other trophies won were the BP Top 8, Ohlssen’s Challenge, the Charity Spectacular and the JPS Knockout. The 90s saw players such as Doctor Khumalo and Fani Madida bloom into real heroes for the Glamour Boys. A league triumph in 1991 was followed by a successful defence of the title in 1992, which would be the last time they would win the league for more than 10 years.
Chiefs were still dominant on the cup front however, winning six in total. The 2001–02 season was one of the Club’s most successful in their history as well as their most tragic. They won four major trophies in four months; the Vodacom Challenge, the BP Top Eight, the Coca-Cola Cup, and the African Cup Winners' Cup. At the time the team was said to have been a team that was on "Operation vat alles" by its then public relations officer Putco Mfani, "vat alles" being an Afrikaans statement meaning "take everything" in English. However, the highs of cup wins was contrasted by the lows of the Ellis Park Stadium disaster on 11 April 2001, in which 43 fans were crushed to death during the Soweto derby between Chiefs and their arch-rivals Orlando Pirates. By virtue of winning the African Cup Winners' Cup, Chiefs went on to play the 2001 CAF Champions League winners Al-Ahly of Egypt in the 2001 CAF Super Cup. In April 2002, Kaizer Chiefs' achievements during 2001 were recognized as they were chosen as the "CAF Club of the Year" by the Confederation of African Football. In the 2003–04 season Chiefs were given the Fair Play Award at the Peace Cup in South Korea. Chiefs ended the season as league champions, winning the PSL for the first time in their history. During the championship race of the 2004–05 soccer season, Chiefs overtook the season-long leaders (Orlando Pirates) in the last game of the season to defend its PSL championship. Under the leadership of Romanian coach Ted Dumitru, Zambian striker Collins Mbesuma had a record-breaking season scoring 39 goals in all competitions. This was one of the best league campaigns in the clubs history, playing with the panache and flair the club had become renowned for across the country. The contributions of the late Emmanuel Scara Ngobese, Tinashe Nengomasha, the late John Shoes Moshoeu and Arthur Zwane just to mention a few, made for one of the best finishes to a league campaign in a long time. Kaizer Chiefs would see the league title again under the auspices of current Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter in 2012/13 and also in the 2014/15 campaign.
Since the earlier days of the club, Kaizer Chiefs managed with ease to attract star players. The late Pule Ace Ntsoelengoe is arguably the brightest talent to come out the club, with legendary coach, Eddie Lewis, who coached Ntsoelengoe at Chiefs, once saying that if Ace would have been born 20 years later, he would have had the same status as Ronaldinho. Teenage Dladla is also worth a mention, especially as his recruitment led to the killing of legendary team manager Ewert “The Lip” Nene. The popular team manager, who had recruited many of the team’s star players, was in Springs to sign up talented young winger, Nelson ‘Teenage’ Dladla, when he was attacked and murdered by hooligans who didn’t want to lose their favourite player to the Glamour Boys. One legend once famously said that if you want to know how Dladla played in those days, watch Neymar! Chiefs went on to recruit other stars such as Doctor Khumalo, John Shoes Moshoeu, Neil Tovey, Lucas Radebe, Thabo Mooki, Itumeleng Khune, Siphiwe Tshabalala, and many others who equally deserve a mention.
Premier Soccer League: 4 Champions 2003–04, 2004–05, 2012–13, 2014–15
National Soccer League: 3 Champions 1989, 1991, 1992
NPSL: 5 Champions 1974, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1984
MTN 8: 15 Winners 1974, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994, 2001, 2006, 2008, 2014
Telkom Knockout: 13 Winners 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010
Nedbank Cup: 13 Winners 1971, 1972, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1992, 2000, 2006, 2013
Ohlsson's Challenge Cup titles: 2 Winners 1987, 1989
Castle Challenge Cup: 2 Winners 1990, 1991
Stylo Cup: 1 Winners 1970
UCT Super Team Competition: 1 Winners 1972
International African Cup Winners' Cup: 1 Winners 2001
Individual African Club of the Year: 1 Winners 2001