I was not supposed to have joined Orlando PiratesThomas Kwenaite
Gora Ebrahim was a rising star in the South African football landscape. He played out of his skin to be justifiably voted the 1992 JPS Player of the Series, a performance that earned him a move from Dynamos to Orlando Pirates. He was even selected for the national team Bafana Bafana. But somehow things started going pear-shaped and he reveals in this frank interview with Thomas Kwenaite that he was not supposed to have joined Pirates and should have instead gone to their bitter rivals Kaizer Chiefs. He touches on the Banyana Banyana debacle and also reveals the incredible meltdown that eventually led to him giving his then Rabali Blackpool coach Walter Rautmann a flying kick in the ribs, why he titled his recently launched book “No Regrets!” and much more.
*(the article was first published in Soccer Laduma)
Thomas Kwenaite: Congratulations on your book launch, how long did it take to complete it?
Gora Ebrahim: Thank you. I began writing the book just before the very first lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It took me about two and half years to be fully satisfied with the end result.
TK: What inspired the book?
GE: I am a reader, as are all of us at home. To publish was always a dream I coveted. Ironically, it was the misfortune in Venda (Gora was captain of Rabali Blackpool and in a league match against Mthatha Bush Bucks during 1995, he was substituted within the first 25-minutes and in an unbelievable meltdown, applied a flying kick to the chest of his coach Walter Rautmann who allegedly sustained rib injuries) that incident proved the catalyst in the end.
TK: Can you break down the title of the book – No Regrets?
GE: Whilst I am most grateful for the way in which my life has turned out, there were many moments where I felt I could have opted better and I quietly rued those decisions. With time I came to realise that it is an exercise in futility. So, I began to purge or rid myself of regrets. The title of the book was never in doubt!
TK: Could it (the book) have been inpsired by the infamous incident in Venda?
GE: It was to a large extend. I began writing a Facebook article to all my loved ones by way of an apology and explanation for failing them on that day in Venda. As I progressed, I became immersed in the unfolding of events leading up to that fateful moment. I gave context to the incident, both pre- and post, and the book started taking shape.
TK: In the book, you reveal that you were supposed to have joined Kaizer Chiefs from Dynamos but ended up at Pirates, what really happened?
GE: Yes, I believe I was destined for the Amakhosi. The chairman Kaizer Motaung showed an open, public admiration for me and wanted me to become part of a larger squad that prepared for a sortie into Africa. There was also this expectation by many to see me partner with Lucas Radebe. He hadn’t yet progressed to the heights he was to scale in later years where he even captained Leeds United. He (Motaung) penciled in names like Benjamin Reed and the late Shoes Moshoeu amongst others. He was clearly always looking towards the future.
TK: You say in the book you experienced a culture shock when you arrived at Pirates, explain?
GE: The culture shock I refer to was management and the administration. I was also surprised by the size of the club’s support base. I didn’t realise just how big the club was. The club was poorly run. A lot of players were unhappy and left for smaller clubs where there was stability. When I arrived, we didn’t have a technical or commercial sponsorship partner. We resembled a hugely, fanatical loyally supported club where the officials seemed out of touch with their passion and feelings. What a pity! To further amplify, I came from the structure of Dynamos and being a teacher. There was an order to everything I did. So the ad-hoc manner in which so much was being done, horrified me.
TK: Tell us about some of the characters in that Pirates team you played in and who made the team tick?
GE: When I joined Pirates, I did not know anyone there. I was at the national squad camp before joining them and none of the Pirates players were at the national camp. I think that was symptomatic of the under-achievers of 1992. I quickly became enamoured to Tso (Ernest Makhanya); Bashin Mahlangu and Nick Seshweni. They were older and much more matured and when they saw me, actually spoke to me. Of the three, Seshweni was my favourite. An exceptional player who was easy-going, ever smiling and laughed with everyone. He invited me many times to go out with him, but I was a newly-wed who didn’t have the time.
TK: How was it like playing with Tebogo Moloi?
GE: Tebza is a better friend to me now than when we were team-mates at Pirates. He competed in a wonderful midfield and brought a different dimension to the team – a street footballer’s mindset, incredibly skillful and ready to play off the cuff, very unpredictable yet highly effective. He was also very popular outside of the team, amongst the supporters.
TK: You said Marks Maponyane also gave you valuable advice, care to share it with us?
GE: Marks was the only player I knew since joining. While a gentleman, he also seemed slightly aloof, socializing when it was required. I was not surprised when he offered advice after Walter da Silva’s unfortunate utterances in Cape Town. We had always gotten along well. He was even at my engagement. But I didn’t want it (advice) then. I was already in the zone and making sense of what was said. Yet I was grateful. On a sad note, none of the other players offered any encouragement to me while I was going through a personal HELL! And believe me I do understand. They had themselves to look out for and maybe focussed on those that mattered more to them.
TK: What has been your greatest moment in football?
GE: Receiving the famous blazer for being the JPS Player of the Series is hard to beat.That was my maiden year as a professional footballer in the NSL. Having pipped “Shoes” Moshoeu was a huge bonus. For me, he (Moshoeu) remains the best player I have played against in the NSL. He was a genius. Others who received the blazer include Zane Moosa and Scara Thindwa. I was in great company.
TK: You speak glowingly about the late Moshoeu.
GE: “Shoes” remains the greatest I have ever played against. He was magnificent, quick, mercurial, precise, grounded, humble and a great leader. He galvanised the others around him with his work ethic. I was also fortunate to play against Keith America and Calvin Petersen in the defunct Federation Professional League. Apart from the striking duo of Fani Madida and Shane MacGregor, I haven’t played against a better duo. Pity the country did not see the “Kiddo” and Cally show. What a treat they were!
TK: You mentioned that on the eve of a Pirates match against Cape Town Spurs, then coach Walter da Silva said Pio Nogueira told him if you were played, he was going to score two goals.
GE: Those remarks by coach Da Silva stunned me but did not susprise me. We had already had a similarly toned conversation on the eve of the international friendly against AC Milan. Then it was an enquiry about my religion. This time around I felt more calculating. It was a callous and irresponsible moment to bring that (Muslim religion) up, knowing the pressure I was under to deliver for him and the club.The silence in the changing room was defeaning.
TK: How did you feel when the coach uttered those words?
GE: I felt upset at first, then angry and the anger manifested into an aggression aimed at Pio throughout the match. Poor Nogueira was substituted after 65 minutes. That was out of character for me to play with that mindset. It just further served to acknowledge that I was surplus to requirements at Pirates. When you were not wanted at Pirates during those days, it was just a matter of time before you were discarded. I knew then my time was up.
TK: When the coach gave you the “war-talk” about Pio, could he maybe have been trying to pysche you up?
GE: No. For whatever reasons he uttered those words, pyching me up was not one of them. To me it felt like I was given another chance to prove myself, even though the decision on me had already been taken.
TK: You also claim in the book that watching from the bench as Pirates played AC Milan broke you completely, how?
GE: I don’t believe I ever fully recovered from the pain of sitting on the bench in that match at Ellis Park against AC Milan.The manner in which I lost my place in the team made no sense at all. I had been involved in all our successes in the year. We won two titles and I had played my part in them. In addition, we were sitting pretty on the log table. My performances were not spectacular, but nobody else was. That match (AC Milan) mattered to all of us, and I was singled out. I have no proof, but I believe that some senior players had a role in getting me dropped. I trusted them, but some didn’t want me there!
TK: Somehow you survived that ordeal and went on to carve a successful career in education, how did you do it?
GE: I had no choice. After the debacle in Venda, I needed to knuckle down and become husband and father to my young family. Football was failing me and the harder I tried, the less success I attained. I scratched off football. Of course I could not do it alone. There were wonderful kids, countless caring people who entered our lives and raised me and my family. We made genuine friends and their lasting friendships was the therapy I needed. This was a positive spinoff from the premature end of my football career at only 29-years.
TK: If you have to give advice to today’s professional players, what would you tell them?
GE: You must enjoy the game to excel at it. That is the fundamental, because if you truly do (enjoy the game), you will grow the necessary courage and resolve to be resilient and adapt to the challenges that are part of a footballer’s life. The football landscape has changed. They are not as vulnerable as we were when we were fair game for unscrupulous club bosses. You now have a better chance of success, but great sacrifice is required. Football is about more than one coach’s opinion now, it has become science. If you deserve to play, you will.
TK: Why do you think Sundowns are dominating local football so much?
GE: It will be difficult to knock Sundowns off their perch at the moment. They are stable, run professionally with seemingly little or no interference from the Boardroom. They seem to have found the balance, the separation of powers between governance, administration and football matters. They also seem to have an excellent scouting network. Without going into the performances of their players, which has been phenomenal, their systems are to be admired and maybe emulated by the other teams.
TK: Do you think Chiefs could turn things around now that they have appointed Molefi Ntseki?
GE: Chiefs were once upon a time the standard bearers of local football. They did the simple things off the field that turned them into a power. Together with Sundowns, the two teams I watched regularly. But Chiefs have lost their way. Their family members are very involved, much to the chagrin of their supporters. Perhaps a seemingly sense of entitlement by the siblings, the new masters, have coincided with their new status, a fallen underachieving superpower. But I think coach Ntseki wil do well to win over the change room and buy some time from his masters. The team needs an overhaul which requires time. The supporters are impatient and so the pressure will be enormous. He will need some luck. He is a local and I will get behind him.
TK: What about Pirates, can they offer a challenge to Sundowns this season?
GE: I will always say that the money that came into football rescued Pirates just in the nick of time. They were able to transform the team and many of their aministrative practises, by getting some good people to join the club. Yet, they have this preponderance to press the self-destruct button at any given time. They showed all the signs of their upward trajectory last year, but it is a new season and much has happened since. I hope it is positive and helps their cause. Personally when it comes to Pirates, I take nothing for granted. I love their supporters; they are the best. They deserve success.
TK: If your daughters played for Banyana, how would you have felt after the debacle pior to their departure to the World Cup?
GE: Shattered but not at all surprised. SAFA is a power that has long lost touch with their people. Horror stories are shared daily about their failings. But just when you thought you had seen it all, something else happens which baffles the football world. Having served in management at school for many years, I will never really get around how the situation could’ve come to what we had witnessed. I would resign immediately. I don’t think I will encourage my grand children to play football. I know enough of other sports to nudge them in that direction. The local football scene will never get better.
TK: Finally, how can the PSL and SAFA resolve their simmering differences and work harmoniously together for the sake of football?
GE: We will need many makgotlas to discuss a common ground for those two organisations, but still with little success. That they are at odds with each other, have different agendas, and big egos is what retards the growth of the game. To get the current leadership to find a common purpose, a shared vision is impossible. Both organizations need a clean sweep of personnel and collaborative thinkers who will put the footballer and the country first. Without this, I’m afraid that we will be kicking the can even further down the road, justwatch the space!
TK: Thank you for sharing your insights with us and we wish you success with your book.
GE: It was truly a pleasure, thank you for considering me on your great newspaper.