South Africa has their hidden secrets in Sports, bringing forward great talent and athletes of many kind. They competed in several Olympics and had brought gold, silver and bronze medals to their nation in early years, but during the sanctioned years, most of the World missed out on those talents, especially in “soccer”.
While “soccer” had it’s peak in South Africa, attracting big crowds to separated professional leagues during the 70’s, two of their greatest players ever, made it in the NASL. We will talk about that later, but first a bit of talk about that return to Olympic sports in 1992, winning two silver medals. South Africa had not taken part in Olympics since 1960, where they picked up one silver and two bronze medals.
Elana Meyer won one of these two silver medals, and by that put the South African nation back on the Sports map. A wait to the next Olympics in Atlanta, finally sealed a gold medal again, with another triumph in marathon, this time a man, Josia Thugwane, being the first black South African to win a medal in an Olympic tournament.
All sports in South Africa under Apartheid, 1948 to the early 1990’s, as pointed out earlier, was segregated by race, with separate clubs and governing bodies. In football you had separate leagues and as the NFL was formed for “only whites” some of their greatest players, with other skin color played in another and maybe better league, with the clubs Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates dominating.
Despite not being invited into the “white party” of the NFL, they had their own professional league, competing in the “all black”, NPSL. Long before the Apartheid regime faulted, these two leagues “merged” and segregation in football was “saga blott”.
The fact that colored players in many ways were superior in the sport, made Vincent Julius a pioneer, since NFL club Arcadia Shepherds fielded him in a game in 1976, two years before the merger. This was seen as a clear point that segregated leagues were not in football favor.
But during the existence of the NPSL, you still had rules about “white” and “black” teams, with those coming in from NFL, only allowed to field three “black” players, so you could say that racial discussions wasn’t all gone.
In January 1985 a testimonial game for two of the greatest players “The World have never seen” were granted. The two players, Ace Ntsoelengoe and Jomo Sono, became part of a confilct that faulted this league all together, and one new appeared, build on anti-apartheid principles.
Ace Ntsoelengoe and Jomo Sone did play abroad for most of their careers, combined with playing in South Africa. Combining domestic league football with NASL soccer was possible, playing in different periods of the year.
Ace Ntsoelengoe played a total of 791 NASL and South African domestic league games, scoring an impressive tally of 338 goals. Ace usually seen going forward from his midfield position, and named in the same sentences as Zinedine Zidane and Xavi of Barcelona. Ace combined his time at Kaiser Chiefs with playing for teams in the NASL.
His first stint in NASL was with Miamo Toros, then played for Minnesota Kicks and Denver Dynamos, before moving to Toronto and The Blizzards. Toronto Blizzard had former Malmo FF coach Bob Houghton in charge at the time, and his past in South African football, being involved in NFL in the early 70’s, made it all clear that players from that continent had been seen as potential strengths in the NASL.
The South African influence at Toronto Blizzard were there to see, with Jomo Somo joining Ace, David Byrne and Neil Roberts. Those were the four seen as the best South African players at the time, all united at Toronto Blizzard. Jomo Sono and Ace were seen as the two best black players, and they played most of their career against each other, with Ace at Kaizer Chiefs and Jomo Sono at Orlando Pirates. Jomo stayed two seasons with Toronto, while Ace played five years with the Canadian club.
Jomo Sono played alongside Pele and Franz Beckenbauer at New York Cosmos, at Toronto he of course played with Ace, and in that same team you had Liverpool forward David Fairclough. The route of football unites, and with so many great “World Stars” seen in the teams with these two, you could actually think it was as ment to be, but in a different World.
The simple reason for the two to play in the NASL was that the word of mouth reached South Africa and to see so many World stars going the same route, and possible to play in both places, made it, especially for Ace, easy to do what they loved the most all year around, playing “soccer”.
The game in the NASL and South Africa were popular and attracted big crowds as the level of the game was seen as close to the best “soccer” to watch, and as we have seen that players could compete at the World stage after coming through in South African soccer in that period.
As the two never played at the biggest stage, The World Cup, they played alongside and against some all of those stars, all brought together under one roof in the NASL. Ace and Jomo Sono were probably at their peak at the time, while other players might have seen their best years while playing in NASL.
Not many players played more than 200 games in the NASL, but Ace did, being mostly seen in the red and blue of Minnesota Kicks.
Sono is today still very much involved in football in South Africa, running his own team “Jomo Cosmos” being seen as a very influential character in the game. Ace sadly passed away at the age of 54, back in 2008, while coaching at Kaizer Chiefs.
The two, Ace and Jomo Sone, are seen as two of the most noble men in the history of South African Sports.