Legends Corner: Soft side to a hard former Pirates tackler

IF YOU put Bernard "Shoes" Lushozi in the same room as a donkey he would come out unscathed, but the animal would need to be taken to the nearest vet.

It would be so badly injured.

This, according to Lushozi, was the opinion of his former coach at Moroka Swallows, Mario Tuani.

"The Godfather" might have been forgiven for his opinion of Lushozi, who was notorious for his dangerous tackles during his otherwise illustrious career as a defender. But Lushozi is still adamant he was a "harmless" player.

Yesterday we found out more about Lushozi when we visited him at the Albertina Sisulu Centre, a school for children with special needs in Orlando West, Soweto, where he is the principal.

You still maintain that referees treated you unfairly when they sent you off?

They had that wrong mentality that I was a dangerous. Even you guys (journalists) labelled me as such but it wasn't my duty to teach you guys to differentiate between a clean and dangerous tackle.

Roughly (no pun intended) how many times were you sent off in a season?

Four to five times but in most cases I was not supposed to be sent off.

Tell us about how it all started for you as a player?

I played football at a very tender age. I started at Jabulani Paradise FC as a seven-year-old and then I went on to play for Jabulani Technical High and Jabulani Black Dragons. I played mostly as a striker but the coaches there converted me to defence. I felt more comfortable at the back, though.

Can you tell us about your big break in the professional ranks?

It was in 1984 when I was recruited by David Chabeli and Ben Zwane at Moroka Swallows. I joined them without undergoing trials. That's how good I was. I played my first official match a week after I was signed. I joined them together with Andries Mpondo, Daniel "Photo" Siboko and the Motloung brothers, Chris and Paul. I really enjoyed myself at Swallows playing alongside players like Rodney Charles, Goona Padayatchi, Ace Mnini and Thomas Hlongwane.

There was a splinter group at Swallows in 1985. Which Swallows side did you play for at the time?

I remained with Moroka Swallows and we moved from the NPSL (National Professional Soccer League) to the newly established NSL (National Soccer League).

Why did you leave Swallows?

They let me go after I sustained a career-threatening injury towards the end of the 1989 season. They sent a driver to my place to give me a free clearance because they thought the injury had ended my career. How wrong they were.

And then what happened?

I moved to Orlando Pirates who had been waiting patiently for my services. I joined them in 1990. The guy who convinced me to join Pirates was Mhlupheki "Sta Hluks" Kubheka, my former teacher at Zola High. He was also attached to Pirates at that time.

I joined Pirates when they were struggling. They were nearly relegated the season before. But everything changed when Irvin Khoza returned to the team in 1992.

What did the Iron Duke do to change the fortunes of the team?

He bought quality players such as Mark Fish and Helman Mkhalele. He also injected a lot of money in the team and we began to see stability. We were paid on time, unlike before. There was a lot of infighting at Pirates before Khoza's return. I really prospered as a player at Pirates.

What do you mean?

I won many trophies with them and the cherry on top was the African Champions (now CAF Champions League) medal. For me to play against overseas teams like Crystal Palace and AC Milan at Pirates was also special.

You say Khoza also played a role in your life outside football, what do you mean?

He paid for my studies and also took care of my other needs. He took care of us all.

How did you manage to juggle work with football as you were also a teacher at Modderbee Prison at the time?

It was not a difficult situation because we only trained in the afternoon. My employers also allowed me to join the team a bit late when we played on the continent.

Who were you close to at Pirates?

The late Botsotso Makhanya and Mandla Sithole. They were simple guys but full of fun.

Who was your difficult opponent?

Everybody was. You should consider that almost all the teams had deadly strikers. Here I'm talking about players like Fani Madida, Phil Masinga, Bennett Masinga, Calvin Petersen, Noel Cousin, Marks Maponyane, Shane McGregor. The list is endless.

Which goal still stands out for you?

There are two (laughing). I headed in a beautiful goal in the semifinal of the BP Top 8 against Mamelodi Sundowns in Atteridgeville.

The more spectacular one, though, was an own goal in one of our CAF matches. Okpara (William, the Bucs shot-stopper) did not know what hit him.

Who were the best dressers at the teams that you played for?

Andries Mpondo was un- matched at Swallows, while Mandla Sithole and Nick "Bazooka" Seshweni were the best at Pirates. But the same cannot be said about Innocent Mayoyo. That guy showed us how not to dress nicely.

When did you hang up your soccer boots?

In 1998. I was over 30 and struggling to cope with the speed of young players. I joined Augusto Palacios in the club's development. In 2005 I joined the Albertina Sisulu Centre, which I head today. It's special to me to work with these children.