Steve Mokone

Football's Pioneers: Steve Mokone

In the latest edition of Football's Pioneers, a long-running series in co-operation with De Montfort University's Centre for Sports History & Culture, Dr. Andy Dawes looks at the trailblazing career of Steve Mokone.
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Steve Mokone (1932-2015) was a trailblazer who helped break down apartheid. He came to the attention of English scouts playing at the highest standard for black players in South Africa in the Bantu XI at a time when black players were prohibited from playing for the national side. He was considered an entertaining winger and was nicknamed ‘Kalamazoo’ after the Glenn Miller tune.

When he made his debut for Coventry City in October 1956, Mokone became the first black South African to play professionally outside his own country.

But he soon fell out with the Coventry manager of the time, Harry Warren, and made only four appearances. He complained of Warren’s rudimentary training; this also frustrated Coventry’s coach, George Raynor, a successful and progressive coach with Sweden whose coaching methods relied on ball skills.  

Mokone joined the Dutch side Heracles in 1957. His time there was a success, helping his club achieve promotion to the Eerste Divisie (the second tier) while becoming known as the ‘Black Comet’.

He has since had a film and two books made about him in the Netherlands.

Mokone returned to the Football League in 1959 when he joined Cardiff City. Though his time there started well, scoring against Liverpool in the first game of a Second Division promotion season, he soon fell out of favour when he refused to play while injured.

He then joined Barcelona but a lack of first team chances saw him loaned to Marseille. He maintained a good reputation, though, and was likened to Pelé, Alfredo di Stefano and Sir Stanley Matthews.

At his next club, Torino, he was described as the Maserati of footballers.

Politically active throughout his life, Mokone joined the African National Congress and campaigned for South Africa to be banned from the 1968 Olympic Games.

Dutch journalist Tom Egbers’ second book on Mokone, Twelve Stolen Years, demonstrates what a threat he was to South African authorities.

After moving to the United States, Mokone gained a Doctorate in Psychology before becoming an assistant professor. He also became one of only two sportsmen to receive the Order of Ikhamanga, South Africa’s highest honour for Creative and Performing Arts.

After his death in 2015, his ashes were scattered at the FNB Stadium, where the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final was staged. The South African sports minister Fikile Mbalula stated: "That’s where the likes of Dr. Kalamazoo Mokone belong. FNB is our national asset. He was a national asset."

For more information about sports history at DMU visit www.dmu.ac.uk/sportshistory.

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