When Kaizer Chiefs and Highlands Park have met on the pitch over the years, it has always been about far more than football.
It is fitting that Highlands Park will be Chiefs’ opponents in an Absa Premiership match at FNB Stadium on 8 January 2020 in a celebratory match the day after the Amakhosi marks the club’s 50th anniversary.
When Chiefs first met Highlands Park back on 1 April 1978, it was still at the height of apartheid, when Highlands were the undisputed champions of the country’s racially divided ‘white’ league and Chiefs the champions of the country’s ‘black’ league.
So, it was with huge anticipation that the two met as equals in 1978 at Orlando Stadium in the non-racial National Professional Soccer League (NPSL).
Chiefs were by then already the ‘Glamour Boys’, a phenomenal team and Highlands were dubbed ‘South Africa’s Manchester United’, not only because of their habit to conquer the league, but also because of their red shirts and white shorts.
So when these two juggernauts met for supremacy in a non-racial league, there was plenty of needle and animosity on the pitch.
“When we played a ‘white’ team like Highlands Park,” reflects Ryder Mofokeng, “it was a real war on the pitch. The notion that they could lose against a black team really angered those teams.”
Mofokeng, the former right-back, was Amakhosi’s captain in those days and is still involved with the club decades later.
The Glamour Boys had a strong side in 1978, including the likes of goalkeeper Joseph ‘Banks’ Sethlodi, the midfielders Jan ‘Malombo’ Lechaba and Vusi ‘Computer’ Lamola and the highly skilful Nelson ‘Teenage’ Dladla.
Highlands too had a fantastic squad with the reliable Eugene Kleynhans in goal, the midfielder Martin Cohen and the attackers Bobby Viljoen and Jimmy Joubert, who would later play as a defender for Chiefs.
Former Amakhosi, Jerry Sadike, was Highlands’ threat on the wing. He was the first black player to play for a white side.
Torrential rain didn’t stop the fans from attending the encounter in huge numbers and filling Orlando Stadium. Chiefs struggled to find their rhythm in the first half and Highlands dominated, with Sadike netting the 1-0 in the 21st minute.
Journalist John Dunn wondered the next day in a match report in the Sunday Times what “Kaizer Motaung said to his players at half-time. I shudder to think”.
Whatever was said or done, Chiefs were a different side in the second half, taking charge of the match, scoring three times with Dladla, Lamola and Lechaba netting in a memorable victory for Chiefs.
Dladla and Lamola showed all their brilliance, while Mofokeng delivered a fantastic performance, steaming up and down the right flank, delivering various telling crosses into the opponent’s box. Amakhosi’s Zimbabwean striker Sugar Muguyo, meanwhile, played an influential role up-front. The 3-1 win was wildly celebrated and rightly so.
It’s of course a Highlands Park of a different era who face the Amakhosi this time round, but some of the legends from both sides who took part in the historic match in 1978 and other clashes over the years between Chiefs and Highlands will be in the stands at FNB Stadium on Wednesday, 8 January when the two teams again meet to renew their epic rivalry.
Kaizer Chiefs made tickets for the match available for free through Computicket and Shoprite/Checkers and already all 75 000 have been snapped up.
The modern-day Amakhosi under Ernst Middendorp are riding high at the top of the Absa Premiership log and looking to write their own names into Chiefs’ folklore as league champions this year.
They will look to put the cherry on the 50th birthday cake with victory over Highlands Park.