soccer legend mthofi died poor and forgotten

WHEN Argentina soccer star Diego Maradona visited South Africa last month on a 2010 Fifa World Cup business trip, the red carpet was rolled out for him.

What is ironic about this is that our own soccer icons are often treated like nonentities.

A case in point is that of Henry Khumalo, who at the time of going to press yesterday, saw friends and relatives still trying to raise funds to bury him tomorrow in Kwa-Mashu, Durban.

We are talking here about a footballer who used to score hat-tricks at will.

Khumalo single-handedly tormented big guns like Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.

At that time Khumalo formed a deadly combination upfront with Moran "Samora" Khulu and Cheese Baptista at African Wanderers.

Besides Khulu and Baptista, Khumalo's other team-mates at Abaqulusi included Burry Martin, Moses "Skep" Khanyeza, Dees Abdul and Traepher Mokoena.

Khumalo was later lured to Jozi by Pirates, where he made his debut against Chiefs in a Soweto derby on April 4 1981 at Orlando Stadium.

Khumalo came on as a second-half substitute in that game to help Pirates beat Chiefs 3-2 - a second hat-trick effort - after Sugar Muguyo, six years earlier.

Popularly known as "Mthofi" during his playing days, when he was a deadly striker with an appetite for brilliant goals, Khumalo died on Monday at the age of 57.

Former African Wanderers player Jerry Mohlakoane said it was disappointing that soccer legends did not get the kind of recognition they deserved in South Africa.

"Mthofi was unemployed at the time of his death. In fact I only heard through Sparks (Patson Banda) after some time that he was back in Durban from Diepkloof, where he was staying with his sister.

"As a country we need to come up with ways of helping unemployed legends to feed their families.

"If Mthofi were American or British, we wouldn't be struggling now to bury him tomorrow.

"Big companies and business people across the country would be queuing to contribute towards his burial," said Mohlakoane.

"We pray that God gives you fortitude at this moment of extreme grief and pain," said Pirates in a statement to Khumalo's relatives.

Khumalo's service will take place at UCC Church in K Section from 8am.