On the eastern stand thousands of fans are silent, like they are at a funeral. A tear or two is already falling down many a face as the ball makes its way towards the net.
On the western stand people are already on their feet. Together, with one voice, they scream,”Go-o-o-alll”.
Then, from nowhere, a big man in a black and white outfit with the number “5” on his back, rushes towards the ball. He gives it a mighty kick just as it reaches the goal-line.
His team-mates suddenly jump back up onto their feet and run over to hug him. The fans on the eastern side are on their feet. There is only one word on their lips – “Sha-a-a-kes!”
HERO OF THE MOMENT
As the whistle blows to end the game, thousands of fans run onto the field. They carry the gentle giant on their shoulders in mad happiness. Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba has saved the day – again. By stopping a certain goal, he has helped Orlando Pirates to win yet another cup final game.
Happy times are here again. If you are a Pirates fan living in Orlando East and you do not have enough money for a beer, do not worry. Today the aunties will be selling a bottle of beer for 25 cents. All the talk is about “Shakes”. He is the hero of the moment.
But that is not how it always was. The very fans who praise you today will be screaming for your blood tomorrow. This is what soccer is all about. Joy and pain, laughter and tears. This is what Shakes told Learn and Teach as we sat with him on a cool evening at his beautiful Vaal Reefs home. This, and a lot more…
FROM A POOR FAMILY
Shakes Mashaba was born to a poor family in Orlando East, Soweto in August 1950. It was a rough place, Orlando East. The youngsters used to go around in gangs with “okapies” in their back pockets.
But not Shakes. He was different. The young Shakes saw how his parents struggled. They could pay rent and buy food – but not much more.
So everyday, after the school bell rang, little Shakes went to the Orlando Station and “opened shop”. He sold oranges and peanuts. With the little profit he made, Shakes paid for his schooling. It was this kind of fighting spirit that took Shakes Mashaba to the top in the world of soccer.
“HOW I GOT MY NAME”
One day, Shakes and a group of friends were playing “tickey ball” in the dusty street. A smart gentleman saw them playing. He called them and told them that he liked the way they kicked the ball around.
The old gent said his name was Shembe and that he was starting a soccer team. Shembe called his club the Orlando Preston Brothers.
“Preston Brothers is where I got my name,” says Shakes. “We often played against a team called the Mzimhiophe Mighty Brothers. They had a good defender called “Shakes’. Old man Shembe said that when I grew up, I would play like that Shakes. So he called me ‘Shakes’ as well.”
Many future stars played with Shakes at Preston Brothers – players like “Pepper” Moloi, Vusi “Maria Maria” Lamola and Force Khashane. Later “Maria Maria” went on to join Kaizer Chiefs. And Shakes and Pepper went to join Orlando Pirates.
SHAKES – THE CAPTAIN
Shakes joined Orlando Pirates towards the end of 1971. Only a year later he was captain of the team. It is not easy for a player to become captain after only one year, especially a club with a proud record and difficult fans like Orlando Pirates. But Shakes had a simple reason for this. “I think they made me captain because I worked hard – in training and on the field. I gave all I had,” says Shakes.
That year Pirates won the BP Top Eight competition. But a much better year lay ahead.
“1973 was a year I will never forget,” says Shakes. “Pirates made history in more ways than one. We won all the competitions in the league – like the Sales House Champ of Champs competition, BP Top Eight, Life Cup, Castle and Super Team Shield. Yes, 1973 was a wonderful year.”
A GREAT TEAM
Shakes has nothing but praise for the players he led that year. “We had a lot of hard-working guys – like McDonald ‘Rhee’ Skosana, Patson Banda, Jomo Sono, Ronnie Shongwe, Solomon Padi and Webster ‘City Late’ Lichaba, to name but a few. “We were a great team. Once we stepped onto the field, we had only one thing on our minds – victory. So our supporters liked us, and we liked them, and we paid them back by winning.”
But soccer fans are soccer fans. They love you as long as you are a winner. But they hate losers. Shakes learned this lesson when he became caretaker coach of Pirates for a few months. After Pirates lost a game, Shakes almost lost his life.
“When I was coach we won three games – but then we lost two and drew one. After losing one game, the fans wanted to kill me.
“They attacked me openly at the stadium. I rushed into the dressing room and changed quickly. I sneaked out through a side door and ran to my car. I drove off while the fans were still waiting for me at the change room. Those were the bad times.”
THE WORST GAME
Shakes remembers another time when fans gave him problems. “We were playing against Pretoria Callies in Pretoria. That was the worst game I ever played. I tried to ‘shake’ myself but nothing happened. Everything came to a standstill. Whenever I thought I was in the right position, the game moved to another part of the field.
“The fans’ boos were ringing in my ears. I tried to shut them out but they got through to me. Those boos finished me off. In the end we lost the game 3-1.”
That year Shakes left Pirates. He joined Swaraj in the South African Soccer Federation League. He helped them win the league in 1976. Shakes returned to Pirates the following year. But once again he had problems with his game. People were now saying, “Shakes is finished!” Shakes was lost to soccer for two years.
THE GREAT COMEBACK
But not everybody thought Shakes was finished. One of those people was the late Jack Sello, who was the director of Moroka Swallows. “You can still make it in professional soccer,” Bra Jack said to Shakes. “There is still a lot of soccer left in you. We need you at Moroka Swallows.”
And so Shakes flew into the Birds’ nest. It was not long before he got sweet revenge on his old team, Pirates.
“It was a Top Eight match and I really wanted to prove a point. And I think I did. Firstly I took care of Jomo. He was a passenger in that match in Durban. He was right in the bottle. At that game I found my form for the first time in two years.
“That victory meant a lot to me. I proved to myself that ‘Shakes’ was not finished.
YESTERDAY AND TODAY
” Many things have changed,” says Shakes.” The Group Areas Act was a big problem for us in the old days.
“We used to camp in a two-roomed house. There would be twenty players in the house. We used to cook food in a big pot. Mostly it was not well cooked. But hell, we used to eat. We would eat a big plate of porridge at two in the afternoon – and then run onto the field at three. We could hardly run because our stomachs were so full.
“Nowadays players stay in five star hotels. They sleep one to a bed. They eat the right kind of food at the right time. That is why players are so fit today.
Shakes says players may be fitter – but the teamwork is worse. He blames “too much money” for this. He explains: “The top goalscorer of the year gets five thousand rands. The Player of the Year also gets five thousand rands. These prizes are not a bad thing – but players have taken^them in the wrong way. Nowdays everybody wants to score. Everybody wants to be a hero.
THE DREAMS ARE SWEET
Today Shakes is not as fast and sharp as he used to be. The younger players are now wearing his crown. But luckily, soccer has not yet lost the great Shakes Mashaba. He is now a player coach with a mining club, Vaal Reefs Stars. He hopes to take the team to the first division soon.
Shakes says he misses the bright lights of professional soccer – but he is happy to play with amateurs. He says he is proud of what he has done with his life.
It was now late and we left the old footballer to rest – and to dream sweet dreams of a time when the crowd were on their feet with only one word on their lips – “Sh-a-a-a-kes!”