All Together Now Africa part 3 - South Africa

In 2011 I had the privilege of meeting a man named Paradise Moeketsi a football coach from South Africa. A man with such an aura of peace and love that he just shone. He had travelled to lay a wreath on Stan Matthews’ grave as a thank you to the man who had coached him as a boy in Soweto. I watched him with thousands of fans from the stands place his flowers on the centre spot at The Britannia Stadium. You could feel something genuinely extraordinary and no-one could move or speak.

Paradise had described Sir Stanley Matthews as being "Like Jesus to us.”

He came at a very dangerous time. Before Stanley Matthews' arrival, races were never allowed to be mixed. That changed after Sir Stanley's coaching.

"He was just like a friend; we'd laugh and tease him calling him the black man with the white face. He was one of us."

Author Jon Henderson looks at the long and lesser-known association between Matthews and Africa in this piece in Think Africa Press. Original article HERE

Stanley Matthews: Wizard and King of Soccer

Sixty years ago, footballer Stanley Matthews donned the English kit and delivered a performance of breathtaking audacity - one that forged a lasting relationship: a relationship between the Wizard and Africa.

The match that brought Matthews and Africa together was held at Wembley, the famous ground in north London, on 21 October 1953. A young South African goalkeeper, Lubbe Snoyman, was among the spectators who saw England draw 4-4 with a Rest of the World XI. Snoyman was touring Britain with the Johannesburg Rangers and travelled down from Scotland to watch Matthews, the 38-year-old right winger who was being touted as the world’s greatest footballer.

He was spellbound. “Long after everyone had left the ground I remained in my seat near the royal box, wondering whether I had dreamed it,” Snoyman said. “It was incredible. Matthews laid on a one-man show… I had never seen anything like it.”

Snoyman resolved to bring Matthews to South Africa where the roots of football’s popularity were burrowing deep, particularly in the black community.

When Matthews went to South Africa two years later it was not quite as Snoyman had intended. He failed to convince the Southern Transvaal FA that funding the Englishman’s trip was worth the money and was mortified to discover that officials in Natal had stepped in to sign him up for an exhibition game in Durban. Snoyman drove the 400 miles to Durban where he persuaded Matthews to take part in a match in Johannesburg, which attracted a capacity crowd of 36,000 to the Rand Stadium.

By now Matthews was in such demand that his two-week visit lasted nearly a month during which he also played matches in Lourenco Marques, now called Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, and in Southern and Northern Rhodesia, which subsequently became Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Matthews’s four weeks away awakened a wanderlust that would remain with him for most of the rest of his life. He travelled all over the world but it was to the African continent that he most liked to return.

It was in Zanzibar in 1956 that Matthews first realised the extent of his international renown. An American news agency reported the following incident that took place during a car journey: “No game had been arranged for him [Matthews] in the island, but when the barefooted Arab and African children mobbed his car, he got out, led the way to a bare patch of ground and said, ‘Let’s have a game’.” It quoted Matthews as saying: “I never dreamed that football, and my name, were so familiar in such a remote corner of the world.”

Also on that trip, Matthews turned out for a Kenyan FA team in an exhibition match in Nairobi. A team mate recalled an incident that showed how quickly Matthews had adapted to African conditions.

Before the game a reporter came into the dressing room and asked to see Matthews’s boots, which were hidden by a long, creamy-white raincoat. The team mate said: “We both knew what the reporter expected to see – a new pair of football boots. But Stan was wearing a well-worn pair, perfect on the hard ground of Africa.”

Matthews was back in Africa in 1957, this time visiting Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria.

In Ghana, he was a guest of the Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah, who had invited Matthews to be part of the celebrations marking his country’s independence. News footage exists of Matthews seated on a throne of wood and ivory, carved in the shape of an elephant, being crowned ‘Soccerthone’ (or 'Soccerhene'), the King of Soccer.

All of this happened while Matthews was still playing. Remarkably for an outfield player, he did not play his last game as a professional in the English Football League until 1965 - when he was 50.

It was not until he retired that he had time to concentrate on coaching, which led to the creation of his own football team in the Soweto townships of Johannesburg: Sir Stan’s Men. Contrary to some claims, Matthews was no apartheid buster and his involvement in Soweto was not his idea. Rather, the impetus came from his sponsors, Coca-Cola and the newspaper sponsoring his trip. Their wish was to be seen reacting positively to the growing international opposition to South Africa’s white regime. Even so, Matthews found real fulfilment in coaching Sir Stan’s Men, the highlight of which was the team’s trip to Rio de Janeiro in 1975. The visit was scrutinised from all sides. The United Nations, football’s world governing body FIFA and the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) looked askance at the expedition, even though it was by a black team to a country with the largest black population outside Africa.

South Africa’s white regime also had their misgivings about the tour. As a result two policemen accompanied the team, secretly at first – but their cover was blown when they followed some of the players to a nightclub where they all got drunk and talked politics. In order to satisfy opponents of the tour, Sir Stan’s Men played no official fixtures on their visit. The year after the Rio expedition, rioting in Soweto, precipitated by the government’s attempt to enforce the use of Afrikaans in schools, made the township too dangerous a place for Matthews to visit.

Much later, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the British film-maker Geoff Francis that Matthews’s coaching in Soweto and other townships “had all kind of ramifications in the fact that it also helped to strengthen our hope for the future”.

Geoff Francis book: Stanley Matthews:The Black Man With a White Face is available HERE

Paradise Moeketsi wiped a few tears and praised Sir Stanley's work: "What he did was absolutely out of this world. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him and say what he left I am able to take further, to coach and help other people. We can't say he's dead. For some of the things he did for us, he is still there, he still lives."

Dedicated to Paradise - Gil Scott Heron 1976

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