Tebogo Moloi was described as an elegant passer of the ball and a chip off the old block, meaning being the son of legendary Percy “Chippa-Chippa” Moloi, he displayed all the attributes of the great Chippa. He reveals why at one stage of his career he sported a ponytail, how it was like being raised by the legendary Chippa who demanded nothing but excellence from his son. Tebogo pours his heart out in this interview and reveals how much he detested being compared to his late father; his friendship with Doctor Khumalo as well as the day they used muthi in a game they ran riot against Kaizer Chiefs, hammering their perennial rivals 5-1, why he was never considered for Bafana Bafana and much more!
Thomas Kwenaite: Football under lockdown is no joke and must be difficult for players to perform on empty stadiums, what are your impressions about the performances so far?
Tebogo Moloi: It is very difficult to describe it. You just can’t put a finger on it but, what I can tell you is that I was more worried to see how our players reacted when lockdown rules were lifted. If you look at our counterparts in Europe, especially in the second half, you realize that they struggle. All in all, I find that we are being entertained by some of the teams. However, it is crystal clear that the majority of teams are still struggling to get into their rhythm.
TK: You took a lot of people by surprise when you went to Lesotho to work there?
TM: Coach Pitso Mosimane is in charge of Al Ahly, the African club of the century. Coach Thabo Senong is head coach of the national team of Lesotho. Senzo Mbatha is CEO of Yanga, one of the biggest teams in Tanzania and the continent. James Madidilane achieved success as coach of Bantu also in Lesotho. So, when I was offered the Linare project, I accepted.
TK: Tell us more about Linare and how you came to join them.
TM: It’s a long story of how I got here in the first place. You see, the club’s president is someone who is a die-hard Orlando Pirates supporter and we became close. They are one of the oldest clubs within southern Africa, even older than Pirates and so, I used to be invited (before Covid-19 disrupted our lives) to their functions and some of the big matches. And sometimes my technical input would be requested, which I dispensed. One thing led to another and here I am.
TK: When you joined Pirates, were you inducted?
TM: When I joined Pirates, they didn’t have a headline sponsor or even training kit for that matter, we simply had nothing. So, my father (Percy “Chippa” Moloi) said to me: “wena (you) must play for Pirates.” He then lectured me why. He had this vision that one day things would go back to the way they used to be when he played with Kaizer Motaung, Alfred “Russia” Jacobs, Eric “Scara” Sono, Ralph Hendricks, Johnny “Conti” Kekana and Bernard “Dancing Shoes” Hartze. A lot of people don’t know that when I joined Pirates I didn’t train with the team.
TK: Are you telling us you trained on your own?
TM: Yes, I was attending school in Mafikeng and I was trained by my father. I only came over to Johannesburg on weekends and played, and then went back to school in the North West. I didn’t even have the luxury of someone saying: “here is a car to ferry you from Mafikeng and back!” It was very tough. You woke up at 5am to prepare to catch the 7am bus that departed from Mafikeng on the day of the game.
TK: This is incredulous!
TM: I would arrive at Rotunda bus terminal in Braamfontein around mid-day. I would then make my way to the Devonshire hotel and grab my pre-match meal. And then the bus would ferry us to Orlando Stadium for the match. Those were sacrifices that we made for this wonderful team.
TK: What if the bus broke down along the way from Mahikeng?
TM: Thank goodness it never did. But If my bus was delayed along the way, mind you there were no mobile phones in those days, however, Pirates would station a kombi strategically at the Devonshire hotel to ferry me to the match at Orlando Stadium. I would simply get into the changeroom and guaranteed, perform to the satisfaction of the followers and maybe even score.
TK: You train on your own and so did they give you a programme to follow?
TM: My father prepared me for eventually playing for Pirates. When you joined Pirates, you knew you are joining to serve. There is no sponsorship, no finances, but deep down you know you are laying a foundation and preparing something solid for the next generation. That is why it’s so gratifying to see players today beautifully kitted out and enjoying benefits befitting one of the best teams in the country. This is the legacy that we left for future generations to say that we will fight even though there are no bonusses, the salary in those days was poor. But it was ingrained in me that this is a team that belongs to the masses; this was a team that would build your character and so appreciate the little things that you have in life.
TK: You sound very passionate about playing for Pirates even though you stopped playing for the team so many years ago.
TM: Playing for Pirates is like playing for the national team. The only difference is that with the national team you wear it once in a month but with Pirates it’s a daily routine for the rest of your life. It (jersey) has so many attachments and memories to a lot of people. Scara Sono, Motaung, Chippa Moloi, Jomo Sono and to the 1973 generation who made this team what few would understand that we cannot forget about it, most importantly I was made to understand how it feels and what it was like to wear this jersey and what it represents. So, to a lot of these youngsters the induction is important. They need to know that you are not only serving yourself, your family, your girlfriend or your friends but that you are serving the country.
TK: Few people are aware of how great a player your father was during his time.
TM: My father made a lot of friends and left a great mark even in neighbouring Namibia. I remember when we (SA Legends) played in Namibia and Doc Khumalo had organized a couple of guys from the ’96 era. I was shocked to learn how much my father had contributed
to Namibian football. I was humbled by the reception I got largely because of him. I tried to emulate him and with great humility, what people say about him sometimes defies logic, I personally saw him perform at a gravel ground and he was wearing normal running shoes and not Astroturf studs boots but simple running shoes. Yet the way he controlled the ball in-between two defenders, spun around and pretended to shoot in a blur of movement…I need to stand up and practically show you what he did and I was simply in awe of what he did with the ball and to those
defenders on that day! Unbelievable stuff I tell you.
TK: And did being the son of Chippa weigh on your shoulders?
TM: I realized when I was growing up in Soweto and used to get irritated when everybody used to tell me that: “you will never be or play like your father!” And I never understood why they used to remind me that and then Mafikeng gave me space and took me away from the pressures of Gauteng as well as enough time to develop. He literally schooled me about the finer points of the game and how to pay attention to small details. When I came to play for Pirates during 1987, I realized what I had to do and what was expected of me. Initially I never understood. When I scored a goal, he (Chippa) never complimented me. His friends would comment: Ja die laatie het wrastig ge-score mara ou-Mambos sou dit differently ge-score! (Yes, the lad has scored, but his father would have scored it differently and with special effects). I never understood why they never complimented me for what I did and instead always compared me to that great man.
TK: What kind of relationship did you have with him as your father and coach and living under the same roof?
TM: When I was 16 years, I started playing for BNPF Tigers in the Bophuthatswana Professional Soccer League (BOPSOL) and he (Chippa) was my coach. I would out-perform myself and would walk into the change room with confidence. He would praise everybody in the starting eleven except me. Then he would say: Jy, dink jy het gescore, maar dit was net ‘n slap, jy was eenvoudig gelukkig! (You, you think you scored? That was a fluke, you were simply lucky).
TK: How did he feel when you signed for Pirates?
TM: The saddest part was that in 1987 when I joined Pirates, he passed away the same year. I had the greatest teacher, a father and finest coach in him. Forget everything else and how hard he had been on me. With due respect, I think I learned more from him than what I could have learned in a lifetime from any other person. He said I want you to go and play for Pirates the way only you know how to play football. He drummed it into me that from the following season (at Pirates) you are going to play football the way I want you to play it.
TK: What did you learn from him as a coach?
TM: Granted, when he coached me at Tigers, he only gave me exercises in ball control and a little bit of physical training. He never showed me how to dribble, close control or how to pass the ball. In his own way, there were little things that he wanted to pass onto me and at the time I was very young and sometimes easily forgot some of his teachings. But when he passed away I suddenly discovered that he had been preparing me for the harsh world that awaited me to make my appearance on a bigger stage.
TK: And how did you react from criticism from people that compared you to him?
TM: When I scored, almost everybody commented: “nee, maar jy het nie soos ou-Mambos ge-score nie! (Nah, but you didn’t score it like Mambos). I didn’t take any offense and I didn’t allow it to put me down. I understood why he wanted me to have a thick skin. He was preparing me and he knew that whatever legacy he left, I might be able to carry on.
TK: It must have really been tough during those days!
TM: You can say that again. Like when the great Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe said to me: “my laatjie, jy het alles, maar jou taima het jou die kop ge-che’. (My dear lad, you are blessed with everything (skill-wise) but your dad also blessed you with brains!) I responded: “Bra Pule, what do you mean?” And I never forgot what he said to me: “You see Jomo, have you seen Jomo Sono
play?” I said yes. He continued: “Did you watch me play?” I said yes, then he said: “Now put the combination of Ace Ntsoelengoe and Jomo, mix them together and what you have was your father!”
TK: How did that make you feel?
TM: I still recall telling him: “Bra Ace, you are kidding me!” His response was: “That’s why I say to you: jy ken nie ball, maar my laaitie, jy sal nooit soos jou taima speel nie! (That’s why I say you know football but you shall never play like him). And because I
had a lot of respect for elder people, I didn’t argue with him. But I told him that I didn’t believe that a combination of Ace and Jomo was the ultimate Chippa. He sneered at me and said: “It is what I’m telling you! At that time, I only remembered how my dad used to put me down, and I was like, what?
TK: Did you ever feel that in his own way he was putting pressure on you to step onto his own shoes?
TM: He didn’t pressurize me but in his own way supported me with everything I did and wanted the very best for me. The only regret for me today is questioning myself what would have happened to my career had he not passed away just after I signed for Pirates? He would wake me up at 6am, I would take a bath and he would go back to sleep. But before I departed, I would enter his bedroom and he would thoroughly check for my tog bag, check if I had packed my six stud boots. He constantly reminded me that what if it rained prior to the start of the match and you had only packed normal studs?
TK: But he was quite right.
TM: The bus terminal was a good 25-minute walk and I would implore him to drop me off. His response was: “Jy’s mal, khante wie speel vir Pirates? Is dit ek of jy? Gaan werk toe and los my uit?” (You are mad, who plays for Pirates? Is it me or you? Go to work and leave me alone). He once didn’t wake me up and I overslept. By the time I woke up the bus had departed from Mahikeng and I came back home in a state of panic and requested him to drop me off at the next stop which was in Itsoseng township. His response was: “Hoeveel petrol gaan jy in my kar gooi?” (How much fuel are you going to put in my car?)
TK: And was he proud that you were also called Junior Chippa?
TM: I remember we beat Kaizer Chiefs 3-1 in a cup game in Durban. I returned home and a day later we went to a grocery store for some shopping. People naturally stopped us and congratulated me. In those days in Mahikeng, they called me either “Chippa,” or “Junior
Chippa.” I think after the fifth supporter had commented about the third goal I scored, he stopped the fellow and remarked: “Sê julle vir my, sê jy dit vir my of sê jy dit vir hierdie bees? Ek het nie ge-speel hiedie na-week! (Tell me when you say Chippa this or Chippa that, are you seriously saying it to me or to this cow? You must know that when you say Chippa, you are talking about me and I was never a cow. In addition, I did neither score nor play this weekend).
TK: What other memories do you have of him?
TM: The only thing that lingers is that I had a bit of a struggle for form. Looking back, I think it was because my father passed away on a Friday and on Sunday we were playing a derby against Chiefs. I played even though in our culture, you are required to refrain from many activities. Pirates officials came to my home and sought permission from the elders for me to play. I discovered at that very time that when my grandfather passed away, he (Chippa) also went ahead and played. I played one of my best games against Chiefs even though we lost 2-0. But after that I think something I was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it but there was a void in my life and my form dropped.
TK: It has never been easy to lose a parent and how did you overcome his passing?
TM: I didn’t truly understand the impact of losing my father at the early stages of my career. I was in matric and I had to leave Mahikeng and come to Johannesburg and suddenly found myself having to deal with far too many things. I think at the funeral of my father, BOPSOL officials made undertakings to take care of us as a family for what my father had contributed in the North West region. But the promises were never fulfilled. My baby sister had to register at a University but because BOPSOL officials had failed to fulfil their promises, it now rested on my shoulders to take responsibility. I think those broken promises made me discover the harsh world that awaited me now that my shield was no longer there.
TK: In 1973 you led Orlando Pirates into the field as a mascot in the Mainstay Cup final.
TM: I must have been five years at that time, but I have clarity of that game. The track suite I wore on that day was purchased on a Friday afternoon at a store called Deans and the game was on Sunday. I remember when we got to a house in Sghodiphola (Orlando) that served like a club-house. Jomo was seated alone in a brown Valliant sedan, my father didn’t even walk with me into that house. He allowed me to go and sit with Jomo inside that car. Jomo asked me the most important questions that I only realized during 1988 the full impact of that question.
TK: What was the question?
TM: He asked me, “can you play soccer?” I replied yeah, I think so. Then he followed up with the second question: “can you dribble?” and “are you ready?” then finally: “Do you know how many people expect you to play like your father?” Unfortunately, I couldn’t answer all those questions. When we left that house we went to the house that belonged to the special project man. But there was a problem. The Special Project man needed the urine of a virgin to complete the kind of potent stuff that would render AmaZulu powerless. Where do you find a virgin’s urine at mid-day with the match about the kick-off in three hours? Then one of the senior players remarked to my father: “ehhh Tiri, die laaitie van jou, dink jy hy’s nog ‘n virgin? Imagine asking if a five-year-old is a virgin?
TK: You are kidding?
TM: Yeah, the team instructed Bra J (Jomo Sono) to take me to the toilet and assist me to pee. Well, the rest is history. Pirates beat AmaZulu 1-0 in the Mainstay Cup final in what to this day has been described as one of the toughest match they have ever played. It was also a year Pirates made a clean sweep. They won all five titles on offer. You know I like to joke about that match and say perhaps one of the reasons why Clive Barker (who was coaching AmaZulu at the time) never selected me for Bafana Bafana in later years was because he probably got wind of the fact that I provided Pirates with my urine that rendered their (AmaZulu)’s own stuff impotent those many years ago (laughing).
TK: That’s an intriguing story, which other instances did you recall where muti was used?
TM: We played Chiefs during 1990 and we went to The Special Project man’s house and he produced a huge enamel bath, filled it up with a strange concoction and we were taking turns in bathing in it. That concoction made our bodies to itch terribly. The funny thing is that when we put on the Pirates jersey, the itching stopped! And then even stranger, when we crossed the touchline at Orlando Stadium to enter the field, the itching started all over. Go watch a video of that game, we never stopped running on that day and Chiefs never knew what hit them. When you stopped running, you would feel the itching and the remedy was to continue running. We led them 3-0 at halftime and believe me when I say as we left the pitch on our way to the dressing-room, that terrible itching stopped instantly.
TK: That’s an amazing story Tebza and then what happened next?
TM: The previous year we had defeated Moroka Swallows 1-0 and going into the final match, we needed just a draw to win the league, but Cosmos nailed us 5-1 and we lost the championship. Now here we were against Chiefs who was on the verge of winning the league as well had they beaten us, but we handed them a 5-1 beating and guess what, they also lost the league due to that terrible loss. We went into recess leading 3-0 with goals from Mandla Sithole, Botsotso and myself and I remember coach Yster Khomane couldn’t believe that we were cruising 3-0 against Chiefs. He told us that one thing we must never do in the second half and that was not to panic even if they scored. And just as he predicted, they scored to reduce the deficit to 3-1. But we never lost shape or panicked and Rod Anley scored two additional goals and we won 5-1 and spoilt their anticipated party.
TK: And how did you end up in Colombia?
TM: It’s thanks largely to Pirates as a brand. I left the country for trials in Colombia with only two international caps under my belt. The other players that left the country to ply abroad had a lot of caps playing for Bafana Bafana but I was signed in Colombia purely because I played for one of the biggest team and my natural talent was what they wanted. They are a passionate lot the Colombians. But I must thank Pirates for giving me the passport to go and compete abroad even without enough international caps under my belt. That is why I keep talking about the induction at Pirates and how important is the knowledge of the type of team you are joining. These boys should understand the type of team they are joining to fully understand the culture and the responsibilities of playing for Pirates.
TK: And how was life in football mad Colombia?
TM: Now, before joining Caldas, I used to watch a lot of South American football on a magazine programme called Gillette World of Sport. I scored on my debut and jumped over the billboards and ran to the spectators like I have seen it on the Gillette programme, unaware that this would endear me to the supporters who explained that their team had signed a player who was as crazy as they were and one that perfectly understood their culture.
TK: But there are frightening stories like the fatal shooting of Esteban Escobar because of a football matter?
TM: The following match was in a town 500km away. But the was not taking chances. They assigned four bouncers to me to act as my personal bodyguards. I asked why and the coach explained that because I had scored during the previous week, they had picked up intelligence that the host team had planned their strategy around me. They knew I was the key player but in the complex world of Colombian football, some extremists could actually kidnap me ahead
of the match. He explained that they would not harm me, they would just make sure that I missed the match and I would be released at the end of the match unharmed. Now this is a country were sadly Escobar was shot and killed after he had scored an own goal during the
1994 World Cup and Colombia crashed out of the tournament and so I knew anything was possible.
TK: I’m told some officials wanted to cancel your contract but the coach refused.
TM: You know I was not in the AFCON 1996 squad. But I had come home for the December break and so, they kept calling me to report for duty, but Bafana kept progressing and I kept postponing my return. I kept saying let them wait, I mean, my peers Doc, Shoes, Helman were performing miracles and the whole world was mesmerized. The country was in an indescribable state of euphoria and going to Colombia would have meant that I was going to miss the tournament. But at the same time, I kept in shape by going to Nasrec. Unbeknown to me, the club had sent four bouncers to South Africa in search of me.
TK: That sounds like a script straight out of a Hollywood movie.
TM: The guys arrived on a Saturday, did not know the country, let alone where I stayed. But on the Wednesday that Bafana were meeting Ghana in the semi-finals, I was surprised to be confronted by four huge fellows that greeted me in Spanish at the Nasrec gymnasium. They ordered me off the gym and requested me to accompany me back home to shower, pack my stuff and we literally headed back to the airport. It was midday and the flight departed at
around 21:00 to Colombia via Brazil, but they refused to budge and insisted that we departed immediately. I only heard when I landed in Brazil that Bafana were through to the final to meet Tunisia.
TK: Your friendship with Doc Khumalo has continued over the years even though you played for rival teams?
TM: The year 1987 we were both unveiled as youngsters against each other in the pre-season Charity Spectacular. I never saw him until I met him on a Friday night at the Devonshire hotel where both Chiefs and Pirates were camping. We both discussed the looming match the next day and while he had his own way of calming himself down, I remember my father drilling in me that this was what I had been dreaming about all my life and so, I must simply forget that I am Percy “Chippa” Moloi’s son and just go out there and do my best. He said don’t think about me, if you do that it would put you off and that would be the end of your career.
TK: What advice did you share with each other?
TM: In those days there were Stokvels and somehow, most youngsters belonged to them, including Doc. I had a strict mother and so did Doc. When you lie to my mother, she would remind me that I better come up with a better lie because what I was telling her, was exactly the same lies my father told her and Doc’s mother would echo exactly the same thing. I had spent the better part of my life in laid back Mahikeng and although Doccie was way ahead of me at Chiefs, I had experienced this professional life much earlier as I appeared in the front or back pages on the newspapers in Mahikeng. I managed to show Doc that he needed to cut down on some of the friends that he kept. I told him that we were idolized, therefore we needed to avoid certain pitfalls that could derail our progress. We needed to maintain a certain behaviour and lead the way as role models and be conscious of the fact that we could not get away with mischief.
TK: What did you learn and can say it improved you both as a player and as a person?
TM: Colombia taught me many things. Remember they assassinated Esteban Escobar and so I was afraid to miss a penalty. However, our coach taught me that it was virtually impossible to miss a penalty. They would show that a goalkeeper stands in the middle of the poles. Then they instruct the goalkeeper to lie down on the ground and outstretch his hands. At the point of his finger-tips, they put about six or seven soccer balls and you must focus at the both in both ends. All the things my father taught me while I was younger, were revived in Colombia. Everything was coming back and strange as it may sound, I started enjoying my football again and truth be told, I had the best time of my life in Colombia.
TK: Tell us about the time you played against Italian giants AC Milan?
TM: When I was sporting a pony tail in those days, we were exposed to Serie A football on tv. Aubrey “Sense” Lekwane and I were staunch followers of Italian football. I called myself Baggio and Lekwane called himself Gianni Lentini and so you can imagine
how crazily excited we were when Pirates played AC Milan at Ellis Park. We had the chance to watch them training. We discovered the simple basic things they did with the ball. They made passing the ball to look elegant. We realized that despite their big names, there
was no difference.
TK: That was watching them in training prior to the match?
TM: Yes it was and the simplest thing they did with elegance. Fabio Capello was coach at the time. He said in a post-match interview that he had been impressed by our number 10 (Gento Kambala), number 13 (Bashin Mahlangu), number 16 (Lekwane) and especially number 8 (Tebogo Moloi). But the saddest part was when he said he could not take us to Italy because we were in our mid 20’s and had already picked up bad habits in football tactics, mind you, not football technique.
TK: How did you feel getting praise from a top coach like Capello?
TM: For me, I felt if a world renown coach like Cappelo did not consider our approach as showboating but accepted that it was our identity which we should not get rid of, but refine it to become world beaters, I was encouraged. He said we needed to be taught when and how to do it. He explained that it would take him almost a year to teach us the right tactical discipline and by the way we were foreigners and Milan at that time had Frank Rijkaard, Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Jean-Pierre Papin. And to bring in a young African to Italy would be first to learn the culture and unlearn the bad habits we had picked up throughout our years would count against us.
TK: In a sense, the game against Milan opened doors for you to go abroad?
TM: That gave me hope that if I could give this kind of performance against AC Milan it meant it was possible to secure a contract abroad. And when we played Arsenal, what we were told by Cappello came flooding back and I’d like to believe that even though I only came off the bench in the last 20 minutes, the performance I gave in that cameo appearance was enough to attract suitors from Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. We were not aware that we have some of the most skilful players in the world, but we need to know how and when to use our skills to hurt opponents. This is our identity, it is the way we play we just need to refine our unique style and perfect it to utilize it so that when we play, the world should recognize that these are South Africans.
TK: Tebza, we could talk until tomorrow but thank you so very much for your time.
TM: You are most welcome.