Legends Corner: How Mpondo filled the gap for Birds

EVERY team has its star player and in Andries "Chaka Chaka" Mpondo, Moroka Swallows had their own gem.

Mpondo's arrival was seen as plugging the gap left when star midfielder Fetsi "Chippa" Molatedi joined Kaizer Chiefs.

Mpondo, who has never played for any other professional team, took us down memory lane when we chatted this week.

Please tell us about some of the teams you played for?

Amateur teams Roman Rangers and then later Meadowlands Inter Africa Eleven.

Would you say that is where you enjoyed your game the most?

Absolutely. We played against Senaoane Gunners who had Mike Ntombela, Dlamini Darklight Darkies and Pimville Champs. Matches against these teams were always entertaining.

What about school football?

School football was equally enthralling and competition was also stiff. I attended Daliwonga High in Dube and Doctor (Khumalo) went to the same school but I played in the senior team, while he played for the juniors. There was rivalry between us and Kelokitso High but we enjoyed it. We did not have a lot of big-name players but we had fighting spirit. Kelokitso, however, had the likes of Mandla "Metroblitz" Sithole, Marks Maponyane, (James) "Killer" Mkhwanazi and (Aubrey) "The Great" Makgopela.

So you ended up at Swallows.

Yes, the late (David) Pine Chabeli had followed my progress while I was still at Daliwonga. So when Chippa left to join Chiefs, I was signed. The supporters were not happy that Chippa had joined Chiefs, but Pine convinced them that he had found a good replacement for him. I'd like to believe that I repaid his faith in me.

Who did you find when you arrived at the club?

The late (Aaron) "Road Block" Makhathini, Sulley Bhamjee, (Thomas) "Who's Fooling Who?" Hlongwane, (Joel) Ace Mnini, Rodney Charles and (William) "Khura" Makhura. Those are just some of the names.

What made you lot special?

The team spirit we had was awesome.

Who were you closest to during your stay in the Birds aviary?

It was Makgopela and Mnini. The Great (Makgopela) knew me from our school days but he joined the club before me, so when I finally signed, he encouraged me a lot. So when I arrived, they told me to simply play my own game and not be scared. I played under Jacob "Terror" Sephooa , whom we called "Ngwana Morena". He liked saying that a lot.

My first training was difficult. I was used to simply playing around with the ball, but after the first training, I suffered from cramps. I did not even shower as I went straight to bed.

How would you summarise your time at Swallows?

Great. I have absolutely no regrets and I'll forever be appreciative for what the club did for me. They took me as an amateur player and made me a professional.

Do you remember your first game for Swallows?

It was against AmaZulu at Orlando Stadium. Senior guys like Congo (Malebane) and The Great (Makgopela) were not selected and I was in the team. That on its own put me under pressure. I was scared and I guess Rodney Charles must have been looking at me because he came to me and told me to play my normal game. I didn't even know whether to call him Mr Rodney, Mr Charles or Mr Stumbo (his nickname). Fortunately, I had a good game and senior guys, even those who had been benched, congratulated me.

Can tell us about your first Soweto derby?

It was a rather forgettable one against Orlando Pirates. They beat us 3-1 with goals from (Ernest) Botsotso Makhanya and a brace from (Lawrence) Killer Maake, while Congo (Malebane) scored for us.

What was it like playing in a derby?

It was great and every player looked forward to it. If we won against either Chiefs or Pirates, we'd be treated like heroes by our supporters. For instance, coming up against Chiefs I'd say to Doctor, "You're still young and even in school, you played in the junior team". This was done in good spirits, though.

What is your most memorable game for Swallows?

It was the semifinal of the BobSave Superbowl against Vaal Reef Stars in 1989. They were coached by Shakes Mashaba. They scored two quick goals but we managed to come back and beat them 3-2 in extra time. We beat (Mamelodi) Sundowns 5-1 in the final.

And your worst game?

It was against Pirates at Orlando Stadium. I made a mistake, Botsotso dispossessed me and they went on to score.

What were some of your highlights at Swallows?

The JPS final against Chiefs in 1986, the 1987 Ohlsons challenge against Chiefs also, where I was a captain, as well as the 1989 BobSave Superbowl final. I'm also proud to say that I was the first player to score at FNB Stadium against Gary Bailey, who had played for Manchester United.

That moment was spoilt by the referee, Des Goslet, who sent me off after I complained about a dangerous challenge on our goalkeeper. The crazy thing is that he had told me that he would send me off before the match.

Who were your most difficult opponents?

Brian Walters at Jomo Cosmos. He was full of running and had endurance. Another one was (Harold) "Jazzy Queen" Legodi. He had pace and was tricky.

How did you get your moniker?

I was called Chaf Kop when I grew up and I suspect that is where the nickname came from.

What was the money like?

It wasn't too bad. I was always paid on time and I made a living for myself. My signing-on fee was R20000 and my monthly salary R2000, which was a lot of money.

How did you handle fame?

There was always attention from the ladies but I was lucky enough to get advice from Aubrey (Makgopela) who told me to be careful with the fast life.

Who was your best-dressed teammate?

Bernard Lushozi.

And the worst?

Paul Motaung!

What are you doing for a living these days?

I'm a development coach at Swallows.