HIS DAILY interactions with a fellow pupil (and later teammate) at primary school in Soweto in the 1950s eventually had a lasting effect on his decision to become a soccer player.
His nickname “Yster” (Iron in Afrikaans) epitomised his rare acrobatic skills and the extraordinary way he scissor-kicked away from his team’s penalty box.
Former Orlando Pirates and Pimville United Brothers (Pubs) right-back Johannes “Yster” Khomane was no ordinary player. He brought hope and stability to Pirates’ defence because of uncompromising play that commanded respect from teammates and opposition players alike. But before the young Khomane broke into professional soccer stardom, James “Mebra” Qosha, his former teammate at both Pubs and Pirates in the now defunct National Professional Soccer League and National Soccer League, made it possible for him to take the game seriously.
Qosha encouraged Khomane to play soccer and invited him to play in formal matches in Pimville, Soweto, in the early 1950s.
Khomane did not initially take it seriously, but Qosha insisted. “My daily interactions with Mebra at school and his insistence for me to play soccer influenced me tremendously,” said Khomane, who grew up with Qosha in Pimville.
Khomane was still very young when he moved to Soweto with his parents from Heilbron in the Free State, where he was born in 1947.
His first brush with education was at Mdelwa Hlongwane Primary School in Pimville, then Pimville Bantu School and later Musi High School.
“Qosha persuaded me to join him in a game of informal soccer in the streets, of which I had no inkling. This happened weekdays after school until my interest was stimulated.
“He took me to Pubs training sessions where I was introduced to the development coaches,” said Khomane.
Pubs had four development teams ranging from A to E, which were feeders for the senior team affectionately known as “The Skom Boys”.
“Qosha was captain of the E division and we played together,” said Khomane, whose confidence grew even further when coaches recommended him for promotion to upper divisions.
The dawn of new soccer horizons for Khomane began when he was promoted to Pubs’ senior team, where he rubbed shoulders with veterans including centre-half Hamilton “Shakes” Mbuyane. “I did not play another position except right back in my entire career,” said Khomane.
Soccer experts said Khomane’s regularity in that position strengthened his confidence and made him a better player. “My stature and confidence grew with every game. I didn’t compromise at the back,” said Khomane.
After a few years at Pubs and when the club was rocked by internal wrangles, the team ceased to exist and experienced an exodus of players to other professional teams in the neighbourhood, including Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Moroka Swallows.
“It was not an easy decision to leave Pubs and I was among the last to leave with Qosha,” said Khomane. The duo rejoined their teammates at Pirates, including Phil “Shakes” Tsoseng, Benjamin “Staff Rider” Kwape, Oscar “Jazzman” Dlamini, Jacob “Tiger” Motaung, Chilliboy “Nobby Styles” Koloba, Ben “Walk Tall” Khule, George “Brains” Mcunu and others. As he did at Pubs, Khomane assumed his role at right back and propelled Pirates to many victories in the league.
He recalled a day when he was voted player of the match after saving the team from defeat. “We were playing Chiefs when our goalkeeper had an oversight of a high ball by Chiefs heading towards the back of the net. I don’t know how I did it, but I lunged at the ball and performed a scissor-kick that saw the goalkeeper sprawled on the ground,” said Khomane.
“We were contesting the lucrative annual Rogue Cup tournament at Orlando Stadium. I was voted Man of the Match and took home six bags of oranges from Pirates’ former sponsor, Outspan Orange. It was a tough match, with Chiefs leading 5-1 at some stage. But there was plenty of time left, and we came back strongly and won 6-5.”
Khomane’s commitment also earned him the confidence of Pirates’ directors who encouraged him to assist in training the team.
Khomane said soccer in his day was all about commitment rather than money. His son, Papi, followed in his father’s footsteps and played for Pirates. He went a step further when he earned a few caps with the Bafana Bafana senior team.
Khomane’s loyal service to Pirates was richly rewarded when he retired. He was appointed development coach, a position he still holds.
Hardly ever seen in formal attire, the former stalwart defender always wears his traditional black and white Pirates tracksuits.
Asked for an opinion on Bafana Bafana’s forthcoming Africa Cup of Nations campaign at home, Khomane said they had good players and should do well.
South Africa won the Cup in 1996.