OBITUARY – John “Shoes” Moshoeu
When South Africa returned to the Fifa ranks in 1992, John “Shoes” Moshoeu was recovering from a broken leg and missed the heady first six months of international action.
But from his national team debut in January 1993, when he scored against Botswana, to his last game at the African Nations Cup finals in 2004, his name was rarely not the first written down on the Bafana Bafana team sheet.
“Shoes” was the key factor in South Africa’s finest footballing achievement, an occasional Bafana captain and among the highest profile exports of his generation.
He was also a cerebral deviation from the norm of his contemporaries, often a maverick and never one to suffer fools gladly.
When reporters kept pestering him about a retirement date when he went past the age of 40 and continued to play for AmaZulu in the Premier Soccer League, he said: “I’m not a cheese.” After some pause and puzzled looks from his interlocutors, he added: “I don’t get mouldy with age.”
He eventually retired at the age of 42 and holds the record as the oldest goal scorer in the PSL, netting for AmaZulu against Kaizer Chiefs in 2007 at the age of 41 years, 11 months and 17 days.
He played for both AmaZulu and Chiefs, starting his professional career with Giant Blackpool and spending a decade in Turkey, where he is among the best-ever African imports to play in their league.
He won 73 caps for South Africa, the last at the age of 38 years, one month and 13 days against Nigeria in 2004, which makes him also the holder of the record as the country’s oldest international. He played at the 1998 World Cup and at four African Nations Cup finals tournaments.
But Moshoeu was the star of the side that won the 1996 Nations Cup finals, finishing as the country’s top scorer with four goals and playing in all six games en route to the winners’ podium. It remains South African football’s golden hour.
He was one of the most gifted players this country ever produced and, in a different time and era, could have played on the biggest club stages. But Fenerbahçe in Turkey are no ordinary club – they are regular participants in the Uefa Champions League – and a mark of the admiration he won there was the tribute they carried on their website in the wake of his death.
Moshoeu went to Turkey in 1993, at the late age of 28, but stayed there until 2004, in a remarkable achievement of longevity. Born in Diepkloof, his first club was Blue Whales, followed by a short spell at Chiefs’ reserves before joining Blackpool in Alexandra.
His early career was stuck in the mediocrity of his club as he stubbornly stayed despite a myriad of inducements to move to a bigger outfit. At times, it seemed he was never going to play with top footballers nor improve his all-round ability while running a virtual one-man show.
High pressure transfer
He suffered relegation with the club in 1987 just one year after Blackpool had gone up to the top flight for the first time. Instead of abandoning a sinking ship, he stayed to steer them back again in 1988. In 1993, he finally moved, for a then-record South African domestic transfer fee of R250 000. It was a high pressure transfer at a time when Chiefs were struggling and Moshoeu battled initially under the blaze of publicity and expectation.
But just as he was growing in confidence he was sold to Gençlerbirligi of Ankara where, in two seasons, he led the Turkish club to a place in European competition for the first time plus a best-ever league finish. He was already past 30 when Fenerbahçe remarkably paid more than $2-million for his services, giving him a platform he should really have had a decade earlier.
Moshoeu was still kicking a ball competitively in the third tier of South African football just two years ago and he died six months short of his 50th birthday on Tuesday, reportedly of cancer. In recent months there was much secrecy about his deteriorating condition and his family kept a tight door on visitors. Among those turned away when they attempted to visit him was South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan and his PSL counterpart Irvin Khoza.
He had strong opinions and principles and was never swayed by convention. But it is the images of his stylish gliding through the midfield, his accurate passing and his quick turn of pace that will prove the most enduring memory.