Pirates legend reminisces about olden derby days

When Orlando Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza refers to the "Ghost" as the spiritual owners of the club, it sounds rather strange to some, especially those who do not subscribe to his humility when he addresses the myriad of his club's followers.

Khoza knows from back in the day what it meant to be a Pirates fan.

The same sense of ownership is felt when one speaks to some of retired players who donned the black and white jersey emblazoned with the skull and crossbones.

One such former player is Graham Johnson, of Westbury, Johannesburg.

He just cannot hide his frustration when he talks about what he sees in the field of play nowadays and his observation is that some players are too cautious, fearing to make mistakes, instead of going into the field of play with a must-win attitude.

Johnson says if they don't jerk up their act, then all the monumental work done by the industrious Khoza to turn Pirates to being the huge institution it is right now, will not bear deserved fruits.

"Irvin hardly gets the accolades he deserves for turning Pirates to what it is today from what it was back in the day," said Johnson.

"They [players] are getting very good money compared to what we earned back in the day and they must show appreciation to Irvin by way of going in there and give their all. It was really bad during our time in terms of monetary remunerations, but we went in there and grounded it and protected the badge, my broer.

"Irvin was not there. It was Sipho Mali and Franklin Chikane. Sometimes we would not get money. If you talk about a derby against Kaizer Chiefs, the adrenalin will be pumping; you struggle to sleep the whole week because you want to go in there and protect the club's superior status."

Johnson, who turns 60 next year, remembers the one derby between the two giants, Pirates and Chiefs in Giyani.

"Gary Bailey had just returned from England to play for Chiefs. We beat them and the goal was scored by Mandla Sithole," said Johnson of the swashbuckling, bulky striker who was nicknamed "Metro Blitz" - a high-speed commuter train that was introduced in 1984.

"Mandla was the first local player to beat Bailey. There had to be a result.

"These days there are lots of draws and I think it is because players are too cautious, instead of going out there and play. They must go out, play and make mistakes because this is what the game of football is all about."

Johnson said some of the committed players the club had during his time were Nick "Bazooka" Seshweni, Sithole, Basil "Kaapse Dance" Steenkamp, Tebogo Moloi, Ernest "Botsotso" Makhanya, Sipho "HotStix" Sikhonde, Moses "Ace" Siwisa, Moses "Mbazo" Kamanga and their keeper Edison "Al Die Hoekies" Sithole.

"I think current players must be told how painful it is to lose to Chiefs," suggested Johnson.

"I enjoyed my stay at Pirates, which was more of a family than a football club. I am always a Buccaneer, but I stand by my brother [coach Cavin Johnson] all the time."

The two Soweto giants will do it all over again tomorrow in an Absa Premiership fixture at the FNB Stadium.

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