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Chiefs mourn Dick Cecil, who signed Kaizer Motaung to Atlanta Chiefs in 1968

Former Atlanta Chiefs president Richard "Dick" Cecil has died.
Former Atlanta Chiefs president Richard "Dick" Cecil has died.
Image: Gerogiasoccer.org

Kaizer Chiefs are mourning the death of Richard “Dick” Cecil, a figure who played a role in the Soweto giants' history when, as the president of Atlanta Chiefs, he signed Amakhosi's founder Kaizer Motaung to the US club for the 1968 season.

That year the US Chiefs won the inaugural North American Soccer League (NASL), which was to import global stars as the sport's organisers attempted to spark professional football in the country in the 1970s, but which collapsed financially in the 1980s.

Dozens of South Africans plied their trade in the NASL, including greats Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe and Jomo Sono. As one of the pathfinders to the US, Motaung got his ideas on running a football club with new standards of professionalism at the Chiefs, and when he formed a breakaway club from Orlando Pirates in 1970 it was named Kaizer Chiefs. 

“Kaizer Chiefs has lost a chunk of the heart and soul of the club as Amakhosi mourns the passing of former Atlanta Chiefs president Dick Cecil, the man who signed Kaizer Chiefs chair Dr Kaizer Motaung for the club,” Chiefs said on their website.

Hall of Fame member Richard "Dick" Cecil discusses Atlanta in 1968, the Chiefs and how they dealt with certain challenges during that time with Georgiasoccer.org.

“Cecil was instrumental in the formation of Atlanta Chiefs, after the construction of the Atlanta Stadium in 1966 to attract a major baseball team to the city.

“They succeeded when the Milwaukee Braves franchise relocated to become the Atlanta Braves, with Cecil as one of the Braves’ key executives.

“Cecil, ever the shrewd business-person, wanted to keep the stadium occupied with sports events throughout the year and, after seeing the huge interest in the US in the 1966 Fifa World Cup [in England], he knew he needed to bring soccer to Atlanta.

“After first playing in the renegade National Professional Soccer League in 1967, the next year the Atlanta Chiefs joined the newly formed NASL, as soccer was broadcast on national television via CBS for the first time.

“Despite America’s disenfranchisement laws, Atlanta was a burgeoning multiracial city with the emergence of a prosperous black middle and upper class.

“To capitalise on the city’s ‘cosmopolitan’ nature, Cecil’s vision for the Atlanta Chiefs was to recruit players from all over the world. In the year Kaizer Motaung arrived in Atlanta, there were a total of five players recruited from Africa in the Chiefs squad; two from South Africa, three from Zambia and one from Ghana.

“On December 14 1967 Cecil announced the signing of Kaizer ‘Boy-Boy’ Motaung for America’s 1968 NASL season.

“Motaung made his debut for Atlanta Chiefs on May 27 1968 against visiting defending English champions Manchester City, scoring on his debut in an upset 3-2 win for Atlanta Chiefs.

“The rest, as they say, is history, as Motaung scored 11 goals in the inaugural league season to lead Atlanta Chiefs to the NASL title, winning the League’s Rookie of the Year prize.

“The then 23-year-old Motaung quickly established himself as one of the Chiefs’ most popular players when he signed and is among those who can be credited with the huge love for the game the city of Atlanta continues to have today.

“He was known in the US as ‘Boy-Boy’ by the club’s supporters, also one of his many nicknames in South Africa.

“Chiefs were sensational in 1968, winning the NASL title after beating San Diego Toros over two legs in the final. Motaung scored the third goal in the 3-0 win in the second leg in Atlanta — the first leg had finished in a goalless draw.”

Chiefs' website said Kaizer Motaung wrote in a letter of condolence to Cecil's son, Terry, that Atlanta Chiefs and its president were an important part of Kaizer Chiefs' formation.

“Dick Cecil gave me the opportunity to play professional football with players from all over the world. I still feel honoured to have been part of the first team from Atlanta to win a championship in any sport in 1968,” Motaung wrote.

“I held him in very high esteem. He was a kind gentleman. Atlanta Chiefs is the reason there is a Kaizer Chiefs today in South Africa.

“When I left Atlanta, it was with the inspiration of your father that I decided to pursue this journey of forming a club in South Africa.”

Chiefs' website quoted Cecil has having previously said: “The impact Kaizer had was immense. Off the field, he was a quiet and very serious guy, who was not very flamboyant. But that changed on the pitch.

“He was a great athlete and striker, and he knew where the goal was. He won many games for us, everybody liked him.

“I am very proud of what Kaizer has achieved. Kaizer Chiefs are a club that is well-known worldwide.”

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