Where are they now: Webster 'City Late' Lichaba

02 May 2010 - 01:15 By Ernest Landheer

The late Ace Ntsoelengoe once said South Africa's strongest representation at a World Cup could well have been in 1982

The former Kaizer Chiefs star also knew who his captain would have been had SA played in the tournament: Webster "City Late" Lichaba, the midfielder who starred for Orlando Pirates and, later, Jomo Cosmos.

Lichaba smiles about Ntsoelengoe's remarks. Apartheid meant SA couldn't play at the 1982 World Cup.

But what a team SA could have fielded with Ntsoelengoe, Lichaba, Ace Mnini , Ten-Ten Nzimande , Masterpieces Moripe and goalkeeper Banks Sethlodi .

"A lot of players had reached their peak by 1982," Lichaba reflects. "Who knows how far we would have gone ... I know one thing, we would have done our country proud!"

Growing up in Mzimhlophe, Soweto, Lichaba joined White City Lucky Brothers aged eight, before moving to Mzimhlophe Callies two years later. A combative midfielder with great passing abilities, he joined Orlando Pirates in 1973 at 19 and vividly remembers his debut.

"Shakes Mashaba had a go at me at halftime as he felt I had underperformed," he recalls. Instead of feeling that the captain didn't like him, the youngster went out in the second half determined to prove him wrong - so much so that Mashaba said to him afterwards: "Well done, that's how you play soccer!"

One of Lichaba's teammates at Pirates was Jomo Sono, who seldom passed the ball straight, preferring to bend his passes.

"You didn't want to be at the end of that pass," Lichaba said. "Those bent passes were very difficult to control. And if you failed to control the ball properly, Jomo would throw his arms in the air, giving the impression you were hopeless."

Another character in the Buccaneers side was Patson Banda. Goalkeepers are usually a bit different to other players, but Banda was "as crazy as they come", according to Lichaba.

Before one match, Banda complained that he couldn't see.

"I need carrots," he told the team manager, the late Jimmy Sojane. There were none to be found. But after much pleading, Banda started the game. And there were no mistakes due to the keeper struggling with his sight. Lichaba adds with a big smile: "Of course he could see the ball. It was just typical Patson!"

Lichaba won three league titles with Pirates and several cups. He captained Bucs for a couple of seasons and played in the US for Atlanta Chiefs for three. The club's chairman was Ted Turner, founder of CNN.

"Turner was a typical American boss, robust and loud," Lichaba says. "But despite being a billionaire, he mixed with everybody and would always ask how you and the family were. The money never went to his head."

The ability to keep one's feet on the ground despite success can also be seen in Lichaba's daughter Lerato, known under her artist name, Lira. Despite winning a number of Sama awards, she remains level-headed, a trait that is close to Webster and his wife Buyi's hearts.

After life at Pirates, Lichaba played between 1984 and 1991 for Jomo Cosmos, winning another league title in 1987.

He joined SuperSport United in 2001 as an assistant coach, becoming team manager two years later. The Pretoria-based side recently won their third consecutive league title.

"It's the consistency mixed with the type of players and the style of play that has brought us that success," he says. "Our players don't hang onto the ball too long. We have a more direct style, which has resulted in SuperSport scoring the most goals in the league.

"The team that scores the most goals usually wins the title. It's as simple as that!"