The history of Kaizer Chiefs
Since their formation as a breakaway from Orlando Pirates at the end of the 1960s, Kaizer Chiefs have always stood for glamour and success, making them not only South Africa’s most popular team, but also faraway the leaders in terms of trophies won.
The story of Chiefs’ formation has been told many times; how Kaizer Motaung, on his return from a stint playing for Atlanta Chiefs in the United States, was alarmed to find that a number of his Pirates teammates had been suspended by high-handed Buccaneers management; how sitting in a newspaper sports office, the idea of a touring XI took shape; how journalist Cyril McAravey drove Motaung and Pirates rebels, including Zero Johnson and Ratha Mokgoatlheng and sidekick Ewert Nene, around in his car, recruiting players; how the Kaizer XI toured the land, winning here, there, everywhere, and capturing the attention of soccer fans across the nation.
Less well-known is the cunning plan dreamt up by Nene and Clarence Mlokoti, a close ally of Motaung, to have the club register with the Nigel Football Association, as the Football Association in Soweto leaned heavily in favour of Pirates and would not take kindly to this upstart breakaway team.
This all took place late in 1969, early 1970, at a time when soccer officials were trying to ‘reboot’ a black professional league. The Nigel FA president, the influential Matthew Mphahane, proposed the inclusion of Kaizer Chiefs in the new league - working title ‘Airborne League’ as the clubs were to fly to fulfil distant fixtures in places like Durban.
Fans were simply awestruck and captivated by the delicious array of talent Motaung, Nene and Co had assembled. And without a centralized league to playing, Chiefs continued to tour, and to build up support countrywide.
From the early days, Motaung stood firm against officials who they saw as inept or corrupt, and they led the way in aborting Bethuel Morolo’s Airborne League when it became obvious that gate monies would not be shared fairly with the clubs. Pirates, Swallows Big XV and Pimville United joined them in support.
Morolo was soon voted out of power and replaced by George Thabe. Motaung did not give Thabe an easy ride either, and down the years he has often been in the forefront of changes to the League, pushing for the multiracial NSL that came into being in 1978, and being a central figure in the launches of the NSL and the PSL.
Back on the football pitch, Chiefs had won their first trophy by the end of 1970, the Stylo Cup. They followed this up by winning black soccer’s ‘FA Cup’, the Life Challenge Cup, in 1971, beating Orlando Pirates 2-1 in a replay after a 2-2 draw, cementing for all time the rivalry between the two clubs.
They retained the Life Challenge in 1972, this time thumping Zulu Royals 4-1 in the Final. Eventually, in 1974, Amakhosi won their first League title.
To be a successful Chiefs player was to be a household name, and they were adept at signing rising stars and nurturing them to greatness - Randfontein’s Pule ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe and KwaThema’s Nelson Teenage Dladla being two of the most famous, but the list of greats are legion.
The acrobatic Joseph ‘Banks’ Setlhodi in goals, captains like Eliakim ‘Pro’ Khumalo and Ariel Kgongoane, stalwarts like Mboneni ‘Shaka’ Ngobo, Simon ‘Bull’ Lhoko and Jan ‘Malombo’ Lechaba, the stylish Bizzah Dlamini, diski wizards like Vusi ‘Computer’ Lamola and Zebulon ‘Sputla Dlamini, the Zimbabwean Ebson ‘Sugar’ Muguyo and the Namibian Herman ‘Pele’ Blaschke, dangermen like Leonard ‘Wagga Wagga’ Likoebe and Petrus ‘TenTen’ Nzimande - these men lit up the 1970s in Chiefs’ golden kit.
Tragedy struck twice in 1976, however, when first club captain Kgongoane was killed by police on the second day of the Soweto uprising, and not many weeks later, Nene was stabbed to death while recruiting Teenage Dladla on the East Rand.
More than anything, however, Chiefs provided the antidote to the toughness and misery of the times through the stylish swagger of their play, and consistent winning of trophies. In fact, their reach went deeper than football; their nickname ‘the Glamour Boys’ illustrating how influential the young stars were on society more broadly. Chiefs were the national trendsetters in the days before Pop Idols and social media influencers.
Throughout the 70s and eighties, there was hardly a season that went by without Amakhosi winning at least one trophy. Further League titles were won in 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1984.
And while Pirates, and then the likes of Highlands Park and Arcadia Shepherds, were their main challengers for glory, the rise of Mamelodi Sundowns presented a new challenge.
Chiefs rose to this magnificently, winning the League in 1989, 1991 and 1992, adding two major cups in the latter season for good measure. With Doctor Khumalo and Ace Khuse pulling strings in midfield, Neil Tovey, Gardner Seale and Lucas Radebe immense in defensive roles, and Fani Madida and Shane McGregor an irresistible attacking force, this period is arguably Chiefs’ finest era, or at least comparable with the swashbuckling days of the early-to-mid-70s.
The last great era came early in the new century. They had finished the 20th Century as the undeniable ‘Cup Kings’. The Rothmans Cup, with all its modern-day razzmatazz, became the latest trophy that attracted Amakhosi like bees to honey, but Chiefs were also still masters of the Top 8 and the Bob Save Super Bowl.
And so, in 2002, they took three knockout cups - ‘Operation Vat Alles’ - beating Sundowns to win the BP Top 8, thrashing Jomo Cosmos 5-0 in the Coca-Cola Cup Final, and beating Interclube of Angola 2-1 on aggregate to win the African Cup Winners’ Cup.
But the club finished a lowly ninth in the League. To Chiefs fans, this was the closest they’d ever felt to the pain of relegation! They had yet to win the Premier Soccer League.
This changed in 2003/04 following the return of Ted Dumitru as coach. With the veteran John ‘Shoes’ Moshoeu pulling strings in midfield, Chiefs took the title by six points ahead of Ajax Cape Town. They repeated the feat in 2004/05, finishing ahead of Pirates and Sundowns on the back of Collins Mbesuma’s 25 League goals.
The Glamour Boys have continued to field star names like Knowledge Musona, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Itumeleng Khune, and won the League twice in three years under Stuart Baxter in the middle of this decade, but today’s players will always be judged against the supreme contributions of those who came before them.