Steve 'Kalamazoo' Mokone with City coach George Raynor
Peter Hayward of Coundon wrote to me recently wanting to know more about Steve Mokone, who was the first black African to play in the Football League when he signed for Coventry City in 1956. Although he only played four games for the club his story is an amazing one that has been the subject of two books and a film!
Mokone wrote to City for a trial after seeing their name in his local paper and Charles Buchan, the legendary Sunderland, Arsenal and England player, put up £100 for his fare. It took the South African authorities almost a year to issue Steve with his passport. ‘Kalamazoo’ as he was nicknamed had wonderful dribbling skills and devastating pace. His touch and trickery was something rarely seen in English Division Three and sadly were not appreciated by the club’s management at the time. He played just four first team games for City, scoring one goal before a disagreement over the long-ball tactics with manager Harry Warren saw him given a free-transfer.
Steve joined Dutch club Heracles of Almelo, a small town near the German border. In the 1957-58 season he helped them win the championship of Division 3 B and was voted player of the season by the fans. He played for Heracles for two seasons becoming a local legend, even appearing in a friendly game against Santos of Brazil for whom Pele appeared. There is a street named after Mokone in Almelo and one of the stands in Heracles’ Polman Stadion is also named after him.
In 1959 he tried his luck in the Football League again and joined Cardiff City, then a Second Division side. He played only two games for the Welsh side, but the club tried to force him to play through an ankle injury and Mokone refused; he was not selected for the first team again. After this he was on the books of Barcelona, Marseille, Barnsley and Torino (Italy) without staying with any of the clubs long enough to earn a contract.
In the mid 1960s he moved to the USA gaining three degrees and qualifying as a Doctor of Psychology. Mokone was arrested - and reportedly brutalised - by police in 1977 on a charge of credit card fraud, which Mokone says was fabricated. A day after his release, police arrested him and charged him with assaulting his wife. Mokone was found guilty and served nine years in jail. He has maintained his innocence all along. Dutch journalist Tom Egbers later discovered evidence that South African authorities had asked the American CIA to bring Mokone, who had been increasingly political in the US, to heel. After leaving prison – where he ran the library and the football team – he took up his psychology again before retiring with heart trouble in 1992. Now aged 81 he lives in Virginia, USA and is a Sports Ambassador for South Africa. He is a member of CCFPA & we still harbour hopes that one day he will return to Coventry.
To answer one of Peter's queries over the skilful South African I checked with former City player Lol Harvey who remembers Mokone (or Kalamazoo as he was nicknamed). Lol confirmed that Steve didn't play barefoot but did not wear shinpads. He remembers a reserve game at St Andrews when Mokone came into the dressing room with both legs severely bruised from rough tackling and advised the naive youngster to wear pads. Incidentally Peter I did recently see a photograph of Indian players at the 1948 Olympic Games playing a game barefoot.
Peter also remembers City playing a team called Walthamstow Avenue around this time and wondered if it was a Cup game and what the score was. Walthamstow were one of the top amateur teams of the 1950s (they drew an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford in 1953 before losing the replay). City were drawn at home to them in the FA Cup 1st round in 1957 and beat them 1-0. The club, who wore a distinctive dark and light blue hooped shirts, ceased to exist in 1988 and were merged with several other East London teams which eventually became Dagenham & Redbridge.
With all the doom and gloom surrounding Coventry City off the field with talk of administration (a disaster for all parties, in my opinion), liquidation, points deductions, etc it is good to report on some good news about the football club. The club's scouting network is being supplemented by a good number of former City players. In a unique tie up 18 members of the Former Players Association have offered their help to the club to spot talent. It's an idea mooted a while ago by 1970s full back Chris Cattlin who has a lot of the time for the Sky Blues after his eight-year spell at the club. Since the FPA mooted it to Steve Waggott former players from all over the country, including several in Scotland & the North of England have offered their services free of charge to the club. The players feel it is a great opportunity to put their football knowledge to good use and do something for the club that gave them something in the past. With resources tight all around the Football League Coventry City's head scout Graham Brown will be able to get the former players to watch prospects & also make recommendations to the club.
I heard this week of the death on 12th March of Norah Mercer, the widow of former Coventry City manager and director, Joe Mercer. Throughout her life Norah supported Joe wonderfully. She played a big part in Joe’s football career from the moment her father helped get him to Goodison Park as a youngster; through the highs and lows of an amazing playing career with Everton, Arsenal and England; on to the managerial ups and downs with Sheffield United, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Coventry City and that great but brief spell as England boss; and on to retirement and illness and so on. Joe passed away on his 76th birthday in 1990 but Norah continued to show interest in football becoming a regular visitor to Manchester City and a frequent visitor to Joe’s other clubs. Some years ago Jenny Poole, the former secretary to Coventry City’s managers from the late 1960s, told me that Joe & Norah were so kind to her as a young girl in the 1970s & kept in touch with her for many years after Joe retired and left the club.