Monday, 1 October 2012

The picture that shames South Africa: Johan Neeskens attacked but carries on

In fear of his life: Tiyana's picture of Neeskens yesterday

JOHAN NEESKENS is 61. He played in two World Cup finals for Holland four decades ago. He is the one name in South African football guaranteed to garner global attention.

And yesterday, unruly Mamelodi Sundowns fans decided it would be a good idea to attack their Dutch coach when the bumbling Brazilians went down 2-0 to high-flying Moroka Swallows at Dobsonville.

Poor security – and a paucity of policemen – saw Sundowns fans hit Neeskens with vuvuzelas, leaving him cowering in the tunnel. As a passionate supporter of the plastic horn, I was assured by everyone during the World Cup in 2010 that the vuvuzela would NEVER be used as a weapon. How wrong we were.

Tiyani wa ka Mabasa from snapped pictures of the incident before Neeskens was ushered away and locked in the dressing room. He emerged battered but unbowed and said: “I am frustrated and so are the fans, but it’s normal in football. Its for the club, its for the players, its for myself, but I can handle the pressure and we have to keep working hard and we have to come out of this.”

 “I am not a quitter, I want to continue to fight, but I can’t do it alone. We need to work together.”
Where many might have taken a riot squad Nyala direct to Oliver Tambo international airport, Neeskens was philosophical: “It’s okay if another coach is coming, it’s up to the board of Sundowns to decide if I will stay or not. The players also need to start to take responsibility on the field.”

Brave words. Words which reinforce the view that the Dutchman, capped 49 times by the Oranje, is no run-of-the-mill second-class European import. When he guided Holland to the World Cup final in Germany, 1974 and Argentina four years later, he was hailed as one of the greats, second only to the great Cruyff.

He won the European Cup with Ajax in 1971 and moved with “the other Johan” to Barcelona in 1974 where further honours awaited. A goal-scoring midfielder popular with fans wherever he went, Neeskens scored 111 goals in his professional career – 17 of them for Holland.

At the tail-end of his career in 1979, Neeskens moved to New York Cosmos, where he met a certain Jomo Sono. He recalls: “Jomo played a year with me there and I thought he was a very good player. A very attacking, skilful player who took players on, and he was also popular in the USA."

Neeskens was still playing professionally aged 40 in Switzerland with FC Zug in 1991 before he embarked on a career in coaching.

Neeskens has never hit any great heights as a head coach. He has spent most of his post-playing career an assistant - to Guus Hiddink with the Netherlands and Australia and Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona.

His only stint as a No1 before his appointment at Chloorkop was at  NEC Nijmegen in 2003. He led the Ere Divisie club to their first European appearance in twenty years in 2003, but was fired in 2004.

Sundowns was never going to be easy. Neeskens found himself backed by a technical team which included big characters like Trott Moloto and Daniel “Mambush” Mudau. People who felt they knew better than a Dutchman in Africa.

It’s true the Brazilians have had a poor start to the new season. Without a win in seven games after their astonishing season-opening MTN8 4-1 trouncing of Kaizer Chiefs, Neeskens appears unable to halt the slump -  just as he did when Sundowns let slip a seven-point lead at the top of the PSL after the winter break last season.

But that is no reason to break down fences. No cause to chant the name of Pitso Mosimane, who left Bafana Bafana with little to recommend him earlier this year. And it’s definitely not worth battering a much-respected footballing legend with a vuvuzela.

I spoke to Sundowns PRO Kabelo Mosito on eTV’s Sunrise show yesterday morning. He talked about holding a fan meetings to explain such behaviour is unacceptable. I told him I’d like the video tapes sent to the police for examination, that I’d like to see the guilty fans banned for life from watching their beloved Brazilians. That’s how it SHOULD work.

A month ago, after watching fans invade the pitch and tunnel area after Orlando Pirates lost to SuperSport United 3-0 in the MTN8 semi-final, I called for action to be taken.

Irvin Khoza, chairman of the Buccaneers who doubles as PSL boss, chose to charge his own Ghost and the rival Amakhosi for an earlier bout of bottle throwing. But the promised disciplinary action was postponed on the morning of South Africa’s win over Mozambique earlier this month.

Today, acting PSL CEO Cambridge Mokanyane said: "We condemn this kind of behaviour in the strongest possible terms. What we saw at Dobsonville Stadium is completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.

"This faction of supporters is letting our football down; their actions are damaging the image of a product which has a reputable name around the world.

"We will not allow this kind of behaviour at our stadiums. The safety and security of both the players and the fans is our priority."

But after four incidents, the escalating violence in South African football WILL now attract international interest. And that can’t be good for anyone as Sundowns prepare to play Platinum Stars at the Lucas "Masterpieces" Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville on Sunday night. We can only pray Msandawana end their miserable run of form.

You can read earlier version of this story as my Neal and Pray column in The New Age tomorrow.


  1. I was absolutely disgusted with the behaviour of Sundows fans yesterday. Where is the respect ? The more i see that picture, the more i worry for SA football. What has gotten into people, why this mentality of violence ? I feel for the poor coach, seeing him like that is so sad. That was so shallow of the fans, what message are we sending to the world, to the outside investors we want to attract into our football.
    Nothing justifies the actions of those hooligans masquerading as football fans. The PSL is rapidly losing control of stadium security. They can't guarantee the security of officials at these stadiums. Very soon hooligans will target players. Its not far fetched to say that at this rate another stadium disaster is on the horizon. Good luck to Johan i feel for him deeply. I fear for his personal security.

  2. Very sad indeed. Sundowns' so-called supporters have made it a habit to forecefully remove and harangue coaches out of their jobs. Its not the first and certainly not the last time. They must just accept that the man tasked with ensuring that Sundowns acquire quality players for the team is out of his depth. This "lack of success" by the team would not cease to stop for as long as THIS character is in charge of recruiting over-blown, over-paid one-season wonders. The coach has nothing to do with this shambles. Mr Motsepe must either fire Mr. Moloto or sell this team to someone that understands football and managing a professional football club. This has been happening for far too long.