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The history of Mamelodi Sundowns

Mamelodi Sundowns trace their history back to Marabastad, a multiracial neighbourhood on the north-west edge of Pretoria’s city that - like the famous Sophiatown in Johannesburg and District Six in Cape Town - was the scene of forced removals in the 1960s.

Marabastad Sundowns was formed by Ingle Singh in the early 1960s. Early players included future Orlando Pirates star Bernard ‘Dancing Shoes’ Hartze, Frank ‘ABC’ Motsepe - current owner Patrice’s father - Joey Lawrence and Smiley Moosa, the older brother of Zane Moosa.

The club joined the Federation Professional League in 1973, and were losing finalists to Berea Park in the Cup that season. When some of the Fed clubs joined clubs from the (black) NPSL and the (white) NFL to form the multi-racial NPSL Castle League in 1978, the competition proved too stiff and Sundowns found themselves in the second division.

As they continued to struggle, to the east, a club called Mamelodi United was holding its own in the top-flight. If you can’t beat them, join them – and Sundowns did this, moving home to ‘Mams’.

In 1982, now named Mamelodi Sundowns, they won promotion to the NPSL First Division. Mamelodi United were relegated the following year, but Sundowns avoided the drop by two points. The tide was turning.

It was not until the arrival of the flamboyant Zola Mahobe that Sundowns made any national impact, finishing 11th in the first National Soccer League season in 1985. Orlando Pirates were a poor 15th and Kaizer Chiefs eighth as Bush Bucks were crowned champions.

A year later, with Mahobe having installed Stanley ‘Screamer’ Tshabalala of Giant Blackpool as head coach, Sundowns were cup winners, beating Jomo Cosmos 1-0 in the Mainstay Cup Final. Among their number was a young Pitso Mosimane.

Sundowns finished the 1986 season in seventh place, and the following year they were up to third, behind Chiefs and champions Jomo Cosmos.

The next year, ‘The Brazilians’ beat Pretoria rivals Arcadia Shepherds to win the BP Top 8 Cup, and at the end of 1988, Mamelodi Sundowns were crowned League Champions, with their full-back Same ‘Ewie’ Kambule named Player of the Season.

Sundowns were the talk of the land; their stylish and imaginative football winning them new fans every day. Tshabalala captured the mood, dubbing his playing style ‘piano and shoeshine’, a phrase he had picked up in Italy which described building up slowly from the back, then bursting forward at pace.

The players, recruited from other Pretoria sides as well as much further afield, included Ernest ‘Wire’ Chirwali, Harold ‘Jazzy Queen’ Legodi, Harris ‘TV4’ Chueu, Mike Ntombela, Lovemore Chafunya and Kambule.

It had not taken long for Mahobe to work his magic - and more, much more was to follow as he not only flashed his seemingly endless stream of cash, he splashed it too, on his club, on his players, and on the broader community.

Unfortunately, the money was ill-gotten. Mahobe, with the help of his girlfriend, Snowy Moshoeshoe, had been defrauding her employees, Standard Bank. He was jailed and the bank gained ownership of the club.

It was saved by the Krok twins, Abe and Solly, who had made their millions in pharmaceuticals. With Nastasia and Angelo Tsichlas at their side, the new management team ensured Sundowns remained at the top.

Mahobe’s legacy continued as Sundowns remained synonymous with style, innovation … and success.

After a disappointing 1989, Sundowns were again champions in 1990, with Tshabalala back at the helm, having initially left when Mahobe was arrested.

Dazzling dribbler Zane Moosa was the NSL Player of the Season and striker Bennet Masinga top-scored with an astonishing 33 goals. Thirteen of those came in cup football as Sundowns also won the BP Top 8 and the JPS Knockout Cup. This was Sundowns at their zenith.

Runners-up in 1991 and a disappointing sixth in 1992, Downs were champions once again in 1993; this time Daniel Mudau was the League’s top scorer with 22 goals.

But the best was yet to come. Between 1997 and 2000, Sundowns won the Premier Soccer League three times in a row, also winning the Bob Save Super Bowl (1998) and the Rothmans Cup (1999).

The new-look team boasted such stars as ‘The General’ Roger Feutmba, Raphael Chukwu (PSL Player of the Season, 1997/98), goalkeeper John Tlale, dependable defenders Themba Mnguni, Matthew Booth and Joas Magolego, star midfielders Alex Bapela and Joel ‘Fire’ Masilela, and the evergreen striker Mudau, who was the PSL’s top scorer in 1999/2000 and the following year.

But after all the highs, there must come a low, and the following years were barren trophy-wise as the team muddled along in mid-table. The time was ripe for the current owner, Patrice Motsepe, to step in and purchase the club in 2003.

Three years later they reclaimed the league title, and then again in 2005/06, with midfielder Surprise Moriri earning the PSL’s Player of the Season accolade. The League was retained in 2006/07; Moriri the top scorer across all clubs with 18 goals and his midfielder partner Godfrey Sapula the Player of the Season.

However, the emergence of Tshwane rivals SuperSport saw Sundowns’ fortunes wane, with Matsatsantsa denying them a hat-trick, and then winning two more titles on the trot.

Sundowns’ bad luck in cup finals also continued - two defeats in 2007/08 and another in 2008/09. Pirates and Chiefs then reasserted themselves, taking two titles apiece in the next five seasons as Downs continued to draw blank in cup finals.

Throughout this period, Motsepe had experimented with big name foreign coaches, none of whom were able to apply the golden touch. One highlight was the 24-0 demolition of Powerlines in the Nedbank Cup in 2012.

But the arrival of Pitso Mosimane re-established Sundowns as the country’s top dogs. He won the League title in his first season in 2013/14, and again in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Most importantly, they finally got their hands on the much sought-after CAF Champions League trophy in 2016, beating Zamalek 3-1 on aggregate in the Final to erase the painful memories of their 2001 Final defeat to Al Ahly.

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