History | Soccer fields, for King and Atlanta, lent space to move ‘beyond Vietnam’

Kaizer “Boy-Boy” Motaung

Integrated sport certainly represented new ground for one of the Chiefs’ early signings, Kaizer “Boy-Boy” Motaung, who in South Africa’s segregated leagues had never played with whites before, never showered or dressed with them. He led the Chiefs in goals in 1968 and helped guide the club to the North American Soccer League title, Atlanta’s first professional sports championship. No Atlanta team would claim a championship until the Thunder of World Team Tennis in 1991–92, followed by the Braves in 1995.

With a missionary vision to spread soccer in a nearly soccer-void landscape, the 1968 Chiefs—almost 40 years before English sides such as Arsenal would trigger domestic horror by fielding exclusively foreign-born squads—created a similarly multi-hued mix with not one American. Ten players arrived from the UK, with eight other nations represented. In addition to Motaung, three players came from Africa: Freddie Mwila and Emment Kapengwe from Zambia and Willie Evans from Ghana. From their outreach and the impetus of player-coach Phil Woosnam, they helped develop suburban soccer, transforming a game of ethnic enclaves.

As city and nation looked for models of racial coexistence, the Chiefs offered an exemplar. “That team epitomized to me what soccer is all about,” Welsh defender Brian Hughes said in 1993, referring to the blend of cultures and playing styles. “We were the perfect mix.”

To Atlanta and the state of Georgia, the Chiefs provided, according to the Braves’ Cecil, a “great, great vehicle for internationalism” that the pan-humanist appeal of the civil rights movement also helped develop (see our entry, “Soccer,” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2 Nov 07, for more on the international influences in Georgia soccer).

Motaung and two other South Africans, the late Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe and Jomo Sono, would continue to develop their skills, as long as apartheid prevented top-level competition at home, both in the NASL and on township teams in the NASL off-season. Sono and Motaung paid homage to the league’s place in elevating their statures by naming new South African teams in the NASL’s honor. Sono formed Jomo Cosmos and Motaung the Kaizer Chiefs.

At a 2004 awards dinner and in a recent interview on the Kaizer Chiefs website, Motaung, who is still chairman and chief executive of the team he formed in 1970, credits the Atlanta experience for granting exposure to international soccer that he would not have gained otherwise. The formation of Kaizer Chiefs also afforded stature and boosted confidence for Soweto residents in their struggles against forced segregation (“The Birth of Kaizer Chiefs through the Eyes of Kaizer Motaung,” n.d.):

Kaizer Chiefs was formed, I guess, at the right time. We were living through a politically repressive and violent era. For instance, if you defeated Pirates at Orlando Stadium, chances were that it would be difficult to leave the stadium unharmed. Then along came Chiefs. Our dress code was such that it appealed to a lot of people. … [W]e promoted the concept of love and peace, and incorporated it into our slogan. We emphasised through words and deeds, both on and off the field, that soccer was about comradeship, about friendship, sportsmanship.

In fashion, the Chiefs favored Afros and bell-bottoms and backed up the unconventional style on the pitch, becoming the first black side in South Africa to defeat a team from the white leagues. Now, within South Africa, they have a Manchester United–like branding force, lending their name to mobile phones, credit cards and insurance.

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