Steve "Kalamazoo" Mokone
Kalamazoo during his playing days

Born in South Africa 1932. Mokone represented South Africa at the youthful age of sixteen. He was encouraged by the Wolves and England Captain Billy Wright to try his luck in England. He became South Africa’s first Black Professional footballer making his debut for Coventry City in 1956 at the age of eighteen.

Disillusioned by his treatment and style of football at the club he played for only one season in Coventry after which he achieved superstar status playing for the Dutch side Heracles and later Torino in Italy. Mokone studied in America gaining a doctorate in psychology and International Politics he was also imprisoned for [8-12 years] for in his view a fabricated offence.

He is at present a Minister for South African Tourism based in New York. He also established the Kalamazoo South Africa Foundation for education through Sport. There is a film of his life in prospect. [Sigma Productions].

For many years in his youth, South African soccer star Steve "Kalamazoo" Mokone juggled a tennis ball to school. The skills he demonstrated on the uneven European soccer fields of the fifties were phenomenal.

The Black Meteor

Mokone, the man who many rate as the greatest footballer South Africa has ever produced, became the first black South African to play soccer professionally overseas when he went to England in 1955. "I would like to see Okocha [of French team Paris St Germain] play my role.

I think his style is very similar to mine. But I have no say in the matter," he said from his home in Virginia in the US. Okocha was one of the most talented players in the World Cup last year.

The proposed film on Mokone is based on a book, The Black Meteor, by Tom Eigers, a soccer commentator in Amsterdam. The controversial player, who spent nine years in jail in the US for assaulting his first wife, was born in Doornfontein in 1932 and grew up in Pretoria.

He became the first black professional in Britain (and later in Holland) when he signed up for the English club Coventry City in 1955. Mokone was the only South African to be compared with the world's all-time greats, including the undisputed king, Pele of Brazil. He was among the few players in Europe who earned £10 000 a year.

Mokone's theatrics on the soccer field cannot be replayed today because television coverage in the '50s was not advanced.

One of the leading soccer writers of the time, Beppe Branco of Italy, summed it all up in what should be the ultimate accolade when he wrote:

"If Pele of Brazil is the Rolls-Royce of soccer players, Stanley Matthews of England the Mercedes-Benz and Alfredo di Stefano of Argentina and Spain the Cadillac of soccer players, then Kala of South Africa, lithe and lean, is surely the Maserati." Mokone's family moved to Sophiatown when he was about six before they settled in Kilnerton, north of Pretoria.

"Do it again,"

His father, Paul, who studied to be a Methodist minister but refused to be ordained, played cricket and owned a fleet of taxis. Kalamazoo's father sent him to Ohlange High in Durban to make him forget soccer and concentrate on becoming a lawyer. But long before he passed matric he had become a national superstar with Bucks. Scouts from Newcastle, England, urged him to move over, but his father refused.

A year later Mokone's father relented when Coventry pleaded for the services of his son. It took months for him to get his passport because of the apartheid system. Team-mates at Coventry knew he was something special at his first training session when he sent their national goalkeeper, Roger Matthews, the wrong way from the penalty spot. "Do it again," they urged. Once more Matthews dived the wrong way.

Mokone became an overnight sensation, prompting a journalist to report that "I haven't seen such clamour in Coventry since the end of World War Two". Six months later Valencia of Spain and Heracles were after him. It was not difficult to convince him to move because he did not like the hit-and-run English game.

Above all though, Mokone had been unhappy at Coventry since his manager had said: "We brought you over here and you are not satisfied. That's the trouble with you people." He took it to mean that blacks were not grateful for favours from whites. A second memorable debut with a European team, Heracles, was beckoning.

Played against Pele

It was 1958 and he scored two goals for his new club against Frankfurt. The same season he was voted the club's best player and helped them win the Dutch league crown. By 1959 he was rated among Europe's top players, including Di Stefano and Ferenk Puskas, the famed Real Madrid star and captain of Hungary.

Eindhoven arranged for Mokone to be their guest player against touring Brazilian side Botafago, who had the legendary Didi and three other internationals. Didi and Pele had just led their country to the World Cup triumph in Sweden in 1958. Eindhoven lost 3-0 but the Brazilians were all praise for Mokone.

Suddenly he was one of the most sought-after players on the Continent and was called for guest appearances with and against the best players of the day. He guested for Valencia of Spain, who had Holland's number one player of the time, Faas Wilkes.

The following year he played against Pele and his team, Santos. He scored one goal in the 5-2 loss but they were not disgraced. "No team could have beaten them," wrote Mokone in his autobiography.

"They pass a ball from man to man the entire length of the field without their opponents ever getting to touch the ball. Each player moved with the same grace I had admired in Maria Callas, the late opera star." He signed for Spanish giants Barcelona in 1959, but because they had their quota of foreigners, he was loaned to Marseilles.

After a year, he had a three-month agreement to play in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia. When that was over, Marseilles tried to make it difficult for him to join Torino, but he eventually succeeded and moved to the Italian team. Like everywhere Mokone played, the people of this northern Italian city swore by his soccer boots.

Maserati of soccer

That was where, in 1961, he was dubbed the Maserati of soccer players. He made another spellbinding first appearance for Torino, scoring all five goals in a 5-2 victory against Verona. Months later on tour in Russia he became the first foreigner to score a hat trick in a game against the biggest team in the land, Kiev.

This is what a Russian writer said: "In all my 40 years of reporting soccer from different parts of the world I have never seen a player score a more beautiful goal than the one Kala scored with a deflection off his chest, save for Pele's goal against Sweden in the World Cup final in 1958."

1977 he was arrested

He was just as much a hit in Australia and Canada, where he ended his playing career in 1964. That year he enrolled at Rutgers University in the US to study psychology. Seven years later he was appointed assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester after completing his doctorate.

In 1977 he was arrested and brutalised by police on a charge of credit card fraud that, Mokone says, was fabricated.

A few days after his release he was picked up by police from his office at Rutgers and charged with assaulting his wife. He served nine years in jail.

Today Mokone is the chief executive officer of The Kalamazoo South African Foundation, which he founded in 1996. It organises scholarships for South African students who have attained a C pass in matric and are good at sport.

He is also on the board of directors of the Commonwealth Sports Awards. Mokone says one of the highlights of his life was having a street named after him in Amsterdam. "People will come and go, but the name will live on after I die."


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