The legendary former Kaizer Chiefs coach Jeff Butler passed away in April 2017. His three sons travelled to South Africa from different destinations abroad to attend the Soweto Derby for the first time in their lives. “It felt like a Derby pilgrimage,” they reflected.
The three visitors were John, Mike and Tim. Their father, Jeff Butler, joined Chiefs in July 1988 as the coach. At the time, the sons, together with their sister Allison and mother, were living in Cyprus, although Butler was coaching a club in Egypt.
Butler went on to coach Amakhosi for four stints with the last being from September 1995 to October 1996. During that period, he won three league titles with the Glamour Boys and nine cup trophies, including his last, the 1996 Coca-Cola Challenge.
To coincide with the visit of Butler’s sons, Chiefs’ management organised a get-together at Chiefs Village on Friday afternoon with players who played at Amakhosi under the Englishman, including Wellington Manyathi, Albert Bwalya, Howard Freese, William Shongwe, Ntsie Maphike, Doctor Khumalo, Brian Mathe, Ace Khuse and Brian Baloyi.
The former players and Butler’s sons had a lively discussion about Jeff, who also coached Zambia’s club Nkana Red Devils. Former striker Albert Bwalya comes from Zambia and joined Amakhosi in 1988, just before Jeff Butler’s arrival. “He was surprised to see me at Chiefs,” Bwalya reflected, “as we knew each other from Zambia, even though I played for another side.
“Jeff was tactically very good and a great motivator. The team always came first. But he also saw you as an individual. For example, I missed home in the beginning. One day, Jeff invited me to his home, which was close to Southgate, to talk with me. After a lengthy chat I decided, ‘South Africa is my new home’.”
Brian Mathe joined Chiefs from Pirates and got to work with Jeff Butler in 1991. “He was very much a father figure,” the former defender says, “Jeff was a thoughtful man, who knew that we, as players, all came from different backgrounds.
“Of course, Jeff could also be tough, but that was all in our best interest. He emphasized practice, practice, practice and making a name for yourself. He always wanted the best for us.”
“We only came to South Africa during the holidays,” comments Mike Butler. “Our dad lived for his work. He had two loves in his life – family and football. To be here at the Village with all those former players whom our dad coached is something to treasure. It’s like looking back in time – almost as if time has stood still.”
The sons attended the Soweto Derby on Saturday. They were amazed by the enthusiasm and ambiance in the stands. “It was so exciting to be part of what is clearly a major event on the South African sporting calendar,” said John Butler on the game. “The passion and energy of the fans was marvellous to see.
“It is a shame of course that the outcome of the game didn’t go Kaizer Chiefs’ way, but this will not take away from the honour and privilege to having been part of such an occasion. We couldn’t help but reflect that our father had stepped into that arena before and had success with Kaizer Chiefs. We felt closer to our father as a result.”
As a thank you note, John, Mike and Tim wrote: “First of all, we would like to thank the Kaizer Chiefs family for inviting us to attend such a momentous occasion. I mention the word family because we were very much made to feel part of that family. The welcome, respect and hospitality we were extended, touched all three of us more than we can explain, and we are truly grateful.
“To meet you all and be witness to the outpouring of love and respect towards our father will forever stay with us and will be such a comfort to our mother when we describe our experience to her.”