How it all began
Black Aces was formed way back in 1937 when a group of dairy workers decided to get the ball rolling, but it was not until after World War II that the team really began establishing itself on the soccer front. During the 1940s and 1950s when the beautiful game spread like wild fire to the Transvaal’s ever-expanding population, Aces came up against other formidable footballing units like Methodists FC, Black Jacks, Bantule Callies, Home Stars and Riverside Aces.
The early Pro ERA
And during the early 1960s, with the establishment of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), the team rose to the occasion and finished near the top of the table on a number of occasions. The Lynneville Stadium hosted many exciting matches, and huge crowds would flock to witness games between Amazayoni and once famous opponents like Black Pirates, Katlehong United, Randfontein Young Zebras, Transvaal Black Birds, Orlando Highlanders and Pretoria’s Spa Sporting club. Significantly, in 1964 the “Blue and Whites” reached the finals of the UTC Cup but narrowly missed the handsome cup and the R400 prize money on offer, when Young Zebras outplayed them.
At one stage during their affiliation to the Witbank Bantu FA, they experienced tremendous success by capturing league honours on a regular basis. Derbies between the “Ace of Spades” and Witbank Real Rovers were real humdingers. However, it was not until the 1970s under the auspices of George Thabe’s new NPSL that the whole country stood up to take note of Aces’ achievements on the field of play.
Legends in the making
He was known as the "best sweeper in the business and is a true Aces legend. The best sweeper in the business, Black Aces’ Donald Mashabela, contains Orlando Pirates Rashid ‘Bomber’ Khan. Mashabela, along with Ace Mkhonza and Slow Masuku, played a big hand in the formation of Kaizer Chiefs as they turned out for the Kaizer X1 prior to the formation of the Amakhosi. The apartheid laws forced Khan and a number coloured players to leave Bucs shortly after this picture was taken. Lethal Black Aces striker Ace Mkhonza up against another Witbank hometown boy – Orlando Pirates’ Msomi Khoza who later left Bucs to become a founding member of Kaizer Chiefs. Alfred "Ace" Mkhonza together with Excellent Mabuza were great players in the 1976 -under the guidance of Moses "Slow" Masuku. Pictures courtesy of Cyril Mcaravey " WEBSITE SUB EDITOR " KICK OFF.
Aces thrive in the Airborne League
Black Aces were one of the original thirteen founding members of the “Airborne” league, which kicked off on 3 April 1971, and they did extremely well to complete their opening season in fourth position – just four points from the all-conquering Orlando Pirates. In fact, throughout most the 1970s the “Coal City Giants” finished in the top eight of the NPSL, therefore qualifying for the lucrative BP Top Eight tournament, although no honours came their way.
For example, from 1972 to 1974 they completed their 30-game programme not lower that sixth place, and in 1975 recorded a superior goal difference to Lamontville Golden Arrows and Vaal Professionals which again helped them remain in that elite Top Eight bracket. And in 1973 and 1974, Aces reached the quarter-finals of the Life Cup Challenge, only to be beaten by Kaizer Chiefs and Pretoria Callies respectively.
Earlier, in a nine-goal thriller, they had ousted Pimeville United Brothers 6-3 and crushed Chiefs 5-1 in a home League encounter. But in 1976, Aces slid down the table to eleventh position, their worst performance, and the next year survived the relegation chop by the narrowest of margins, after coming fourteenth out of sixteen teams. One of the main reasons for their poor showing around this time was that ace sharpshooter Thomas “Junior” Ngobe (PIC) had missed much of the 1976 season with a broken leg. The levelheaded player made his debut in 1973 under the then coach Moses “Slow” Masuku and together with teammates Excellent Mabuza and Alfred “Ace” Mkhonza an excellent slide-tackling defender, was responsible for changing the face of football in Witbank.
The end of Apartheid in Soccer
Significantly, as soon as “Junior” recovered fully from injury, the gifted player blasted his way to the top of the 1978 League scorers’ ladder with forty fantastic goals, to lift his club back to the dizzy heights of the top six. However, that season was different to any other because a number of clubs which had previously belonged to the “whites-only” National Football League, joined the NPSL as soccer decided it had had enough of the apartheid government telling it what to do.
The new multi-racial League, which consisted of 24 clubs, was divided into two zones of 12 clubs each with teams playing twice against sides in their own zone and once against teams in the other zone. It was during this historic year that Aces came face to face with the relatively unknown Wits University, Highlands Park, Lusitano and Arcadia. And that year, although three ‘white’ teams finished in the top three, Aces did well to notch up the same number of points as third and fourth placed Kaizer Chiefs and Highlands Park, but eventually had to settle for sixth place as a result of an inferior goal difference.
In July 1979, after a run of 13 unbeaten games, for some strange reason, coach Nick Koapeng was shown the door. There had been allegations that he expected too much from his players and following his departure, the club dropped to eighth. One of the best matches at Lynnville that year was when 18 000 fans crammed into the 10 000-capacity ground to watch Kaizer Chiefs and Black Aces battle it out. Chiefs netted the only goal of the game in the first half but Aces responded with some bone-crunching tackles in the second period, which resulted in Nelson ‘Teenage’ Dladla, the goal scorer, having to leave the field. Almost exactly a year later, Englishmen Nick Howe (PIC) made a winning start as player-coach with a 5-1 away victory at Benoni.
The BP Top Eight Cup comes home
Earlier in 1980, Black Aces had picked up their first silverware of the modern era when, following an exciting win over Orlando Pirates, the much-heralded BP Top 8 Cup found its way to their clubhouse. In the first leg, the teams played to a 1-1 draw but Aces’ defence held firm in the second game, and their 1-0 win was credit to a newfound team spirit.
Around this time, they also reached the quarterfinals of the Mainstay Cup but went down 3-4 to the eventual winners, Kaizer Chiefs. The squad who did the ‘Coal City Giants’ proud was: Cyprian “Mahala” Maimane, Jacob Ntuli, Nick Howe, Meshack ‘Touch’ Mokwebo, Shakes Nhlapo, Steve Maseko, Jacob Mathale, Emmanuel Motla, Steve Selape, Abel ‘Rollaway’ Mkhabela, Steve ‘Disco’ Makua and Ngobe. Other notable men from the same era included: Willie ‘Mad Max’ Mahlangu, George Mthembu, Douglas Molaudzi, Jonathon Mdlalose, Arthur Zulu and Solomon Mohlabane.
In 1981, Makua was out for a period after breaking a jaw, while Ngobe spent time playing in Austria, and Walter Rautmann (PIC) also returned to the coaching post after Howe decided to concentrate on his playing career instead. Significantly, the Austrian was ecstatic as his team humiliated early-season giant killers Mamelodi United 7-0 at Lynnville, with ‘Shuffle’ Mokopane grabbing four great goals. Later, Aces beat Pubs to top the table but ended the season in sixth place.
1983 Mainstay Cup Final
Amandebele reached the final of the 1983 Mainstay Cup but their brave warriors lost 1-0 to Moroka Swallows at Ellis Park before 70 000 spectators, when Ace Mnini hit a sensational, angled last-minute strike, which disappointed Aces’ chairperson Sonny Ndala and manager Henry Mhlongo. Some of the new names in the team around this time included: Ben ‘Hindu’ Ntuli, Alfred Tshole, William ‘Sunshine Man’ Sibiya, Bobby ‘The Best’ Hearn, Nicholas “Bazooka” Seshweni, Jacob ‘Butha’ Mathathe, Peter ‘Fuduwa’ Mokotedi, Harris ‘TV 4’ Chueu (PIC), Kenny Gill and Barney Tweedle (coach).
Transfers and Wage Disputes
Early in 1984, Seshweni was transferred to Orlando Pirates for R25 000 during the period when player-coach Augusto Palacios replaced Orlando Casares in the hot seat. But the Peruvian had caused a stir in the conservative town of Witbank and when his white wife joined him, local council officials refused to allow the pair to live in the same house.
In fact, he had an on-off relationship with the club that year and with fellow South American, Sergio Novoa, was involved in a dispute over wages. Subsequently, the two men left Ukhumba Black Aces, who did well to qualify for the BP Top for the first time in three years.
The club also played under the banner of Super Kurl Aces, and there was quite a lot of chaos during the mid-1980s with striker Gordon Igesund (PIC) involved in a lawsuit against them, while coach Rautmann, back for the umpteenth time, complained about unpaid money. They also suspended midfielder Chueu after he went to Belgium for trials. However, although their League form dipped again, Aces managed a fantastic 2-1 home win against log leaders and eventual champions, Durban Bush Bucks in September 1985.
Jazzy, Queen, TV4 and Cooke
Talented midfielder Harold “Jazzy Queen” Legodi, a man gifted with lots of creativity and acceleration, starred in a double-act with Chueu, while top scorer that season was Welshman Terry Cooke, who netted 14 goals, including four against Wits University. And the evergreen Ngobe, who hit a hat-trick against Hellenic, was still the master craftsman – his pin-point crosses continued to tear opposition defenders apart. “The club was not run very well. They used to promise me the earth by saying they would get me this and that, but nothing materialized. There was very little discipline in the camp.
It was do as you like, and there were always loads of girls following the players around at hotels. The players were like sailors with a girl in every port,” recalls Cooke. There were more problems in early 1986 when more than half the team members were suspended by management after absconding. This followed three League losses in a row, but they bounced back to end Kaizer Chiefs unbeaten run, thanks to an Eric Maele strike.
Terry Paine becomes Coach
Midway through that year, former English 1966 World Cup winner, Terry Paine, was signed as coach, and gave games to Peter Gordon and Goody Bentley, both previously amateurs. And because of Paine’s professionalism, the team went on a long unbeaten run, which was finally broken in Umlazi by Bush Bucks as they sought sweet revenge after Aces had ended their 22-game run a year earlier.
Days before Christmas, Paine departed but he had managed to lift the team into 11th position. Other notable players to have donned the club’s kit during this era were Amos Mkhari, Owen da Gama (PIC) , Mathews Msibi, Pio Nogueira, Roberto Bitencourt and Michael Buthelezi, whose hat-trick once demolished African Wanderers. Defender Msibi was killed in a car crash on 5 July 1988, and his family received a donation of R2 000 from the NSL. The controversial Palacios, who replaced John Lathan in January 1989, signed compatriot Alberto Cano. And for the second time in less than a year, Aces added Mamelodi Sundowns to their list of major scalps.
Thomas 'Junior' Ngobe retires
However, by June there was more chaos with Ngobe, the club’s long-serving captain, accused by officials of instigating a pay revolt – as the team failed to honour a home game. ‘Junior’ hung his boots up at the end of 1989 - after representing the club for sixteen years, and although no records of his amazing goal-scoring attributes are available, his name will remain forever in the 100-goal club amongst the likes of Jomo Sono, Ace Ntsoelengoe, Bernard Hartze and Marks Maponyane. “Aces actually didn’t need a coach, all we needed was someone to talk to us and give us the confidence because we could change the pattern of the game ourselves,” explains Ngobe.
“During the 1980s the team was at its best, we groomed all the big names, the only problem were lack of money. If Black Aces had been in Johannesburg, I am sure we would have survived. When people used to talk about the top four, they referred to us, Chiefs, Pirates and Swallows. Sundowns were nothing in those days.”
Chairperson Joe Ntuli fired Palacios late in 1989 as his team finished dangerously close to the drop zone. By this time, Percy Nxumalo had become Aces leading striker but for the next few years, there was nothing to write home about as the club struggled at the wrong end of the table.
1993 BOB SAVE Super Bowl Victory
It was only after Johnny Ferreira (PIC) took the coaching post in the early 1990s that things began to change for the Amazayoni. He turned the squad from an average side into a winning combination, and inspired them to an unexpected 1-0 victory over Kaizer Chiefs in the money-spinning 1993 Bob Save Super Bowl, thanks to an injury time free kick by Richard Peer.
“The guys did well, it wasn’t a brilliant team but we worked hard,” says Ferreira. “It was as a result of a bit of luck and smart thinking that we got to the final. We actually lost to Manning Rangers in the semis, but they had a goalkeeper from Liberia who had played under a different name. Irvin Khoza, who knew everything and still does, told me about the illegally registered player.”
Aces makes history in Brazil
Total Aces had earlier reached the final of the BP Top 8 Cup but could not repeat their 1980 success over Orlando Pirates. This time the Buccaneers won 3-1 and it was the end of a fairly tail-year which saw the 56-year-old club make history by becoming the first team to travel overseas after South Africa’s re-admittance to Fifa in July 1992. In fact, under their new Brazilian coach Walter Moreira, they played against Tupi of Juiz de Fora and Flamengo of Rio de Janeiro, after Ferreira had resigned when bonuses for reaching the Top Eight Final never materialized.
“When the team came back from Brazil, King Mabhoko-Mayisha II called me and said ‘this is a shambles, I’ll pay your bonus, please come back,’” recalls Ferreira, who remained with Aces until the end of 1995.
“It was a massive club, a big strong club, but the administration side was a shambles. Everybody expected them to go forward in 1994 but it all fell apart.” The men who were on Aces’ books during this memorable era included Joseph Sibiya, Jerry Madonsela, Manuel Pereira, Winston Mgqamqo, Brad Deetlefs, Adam Mabena, Joseph Thulare, Cesar Maphalla, Thembinkosi Biyela, Sello “Page” Mahlangu, Percy Nxumalo, Johannes Shili and Peer.
The club gained further international experience in 1994 when they campaigned in the CAF Cup Winners’ Cup, beating Bantu FC from Lesotho in the first round. They also defeated Reunion’s Stade Tamponaise 1-0 at HM Pitjie on 30 April 1994, but later lost 4-2 on the Indian Ocean Island. In 1995, Biyela’s eleven goals made him top scorer, while Shili hit six, followed by Bonga Mofokeng and Lawrence ‘Sista Monica’ Siyangaphi (both with four). The ‘Royal Blue and Whites’ was registered as a CC and besides the King; the other members were Solly Kgapola, J. Ntuli and Chairperson Veli Mahlangu. Home games were played either at the Kwaguqu Stadium in Witbank or at KwaMhlanga.
A Fall from Grace
After the departure of Ferreira, Black Aces fell from grace and in their golden jubilee year (1997) there was no reason to celebrate. Despite a long history of solid mid-table league finishing positions, they had the embarrassment of becoming the first PSL club to face the chop at the end of the 1996/97 season. And what a dismal display it was! The team only picked up 19 points out of a possible 102, while conceding 70 goals, with Chiefs and Hellenic both netting seven times against an inept defence.
Steve Haupt (PIC), who took the doomed team over for their last six PSL games, did a good job in the Inland Stream of the First Division, and at one point his side were 15 points clear of all their rivals. “We were top of the League but when Steve Makua was brought in for two months, we lost 8 games on the trot and ended up a point behind promoted Dynamos. It was a really, nice team. We had an amazing system whereby we trained in Ogies, after picking up players all along the way from Soweto and Tembisa,” says Haupt. Some of the men who did duty around this time were leading goal scorer Jean-Paul Bang Penda, Dennis Lota, Teboho Mokoena, Tebogo Mophaleng and Dumisa Ngobe, the son of the legendary Thomas.
Former Aces players who have won their national Bafana Bafana colours - but not whilst on the books of the Ama Zayoni - include Peter Gordon, Sam Kambule, Harold Legodi, Dumisa Ngobe and Jerry Sikhosana. In 2001/02 Aces were almost relegated from the Inland Stream of the First Division whilst playing with the likes of Tycoon Silver Stars, Black Leopards, Giant Aces and Arcadia Shepherds. On 12 September 2002 Robert Gumede, an Mpumalanga multi-millionaire and former owner of Dangerous Darkies, bought 51% of the club’s shares. The deal was between Gumede and long-time Aces owner Veli Mahlangu. The club name changed to Dangerous Aces FC - a combination of Darkies and Aces.
A new ERA in the MORFOU Family
Some three years ago (2004), joint-chairpersons George Morfou and his brother Mario, purchased the remnants of relegated Dangerous Darkies, changed the name to Mpumalanga Black Aces and reached the Vodacom League play-offs at the end of last season. And in December 2006, the pair bought the franchise of Polokwane-based City Pillars, the former Mvela Golden League side who were at the last minute denied a place in the play-offs – after being deducted points for fielding an improperly registered player.
“When both our sides failed to win promotion last season, we took stock and decided on a new structure, a new set up. Obviously it is not legally possible to swap the statuses of our clubs but if you look at it, that is exactly what happened,” explains George Morfou, whose father Laki Morfou is club president. “We renamed our Vodacom League side Aces Academy, moved Pillars to Witbank and registered them as Mpumalanga Black Aces.
A Blast from the past
Donald Mashabela of Aces
(Click on image to zoom)
Donald Mashabela of Aces
(Click on image to zoom)
Junior Ngobe – Aces’ legendary all-time leading goalscorer 1973-1989.
Aces Team Pic 1983
Nick Howe – 1980-82 player/coach
Walter Rautmann – numerous spells as coach 1980s
Harris TV 4 Chueu – 1985 star
Gordon Igesund 1985 player/coach
Owen da Gama – 13 July 1986 guest player - scored twice in two minutes as Aces beat Pirates 3-1.
Amos Mkari 1986 player
Johnny Ferreira – coach 1993-95
ACES CELEBRATE WITH 1993 BOB SAVE
Richard Peer – scorer of winning goal in 1993 Bob Save victory.
Steve Haupt – coach 1997-99
Aces Team Pic 1995