I am posting this legendary Kocaelispor kit—sporting a classic Diadora design—in memory of the equally legendary South African midfielder John Lesiba “Shoes” Moshoeu.
The fan favorite passed away on April 21 in Johannesburg, South Africa, after battling stomach cancer. He was 49 years old. On Monday April 27 hundreds of South African football supporters came to Soweto in order to say their last goodbyes to a footballer who represented Bafana Bafana 73 times; he was selected to the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations squad for the last time at 38 years young before retiring at 42. Western media noted that he was one of the symbols of post-apartheid South Africa, one of the building blocks of the nation’s footballing success following the dark years of apartheid.
Moshoeu was a fan favorite wherever he went, and Turkish fans remember him fondly from the days of his ten-year adventure in Turkey from 1993-2003 during which he represented some of Turkey’s biggest clubs including Genclerbirligi, Kocaelispor, Fenerbahce, and Bursaspor. Local websites from Kocaeli did not forget a footballer that played a big part in their club’s golden years, winning the Turkish cup in 1997. Moshoeu himself never forgot Turkey (even though he initially had a tough time fitting in due to his skin color–foreign players were a novelty in the Turkish league of the early 1990s); for the last two years he assisted in coaching youths at a Turkish school in Pretoria and has been involved in many social development initiatives. Ilker Yilmaz, writing for hayatimfutbol.com, noted that he “didn’t neglect to pay football back for all it gave him…because he was Mandela’s man”.
Strangely “Shoes” Moshoeu’s untimely death came just three days before Kocaelispor—the team for which he shined—celebrated its 50th anniversary. One local sports blogger noted that while the club legend battled stomach cancer his old team was battling for its future; Kocaelispor have fallen to the amateur ranks of Turkish football and might even lose their legendary Ismet Pasa stadium, long a feared destination for visiting teams in Turkey’s top flight. Football is a strange game—a young man from South Africa can, somehow, travel halfway around the world and end up with his fortunes intertwined with a small team far away from his home, becoming a hero in the process. Gencay Keskin says it well when describing why he would don a black and green number ten Kocaelispor shirt and yell Moshoeu’s name, running through a football match under the summer sun:
“Çocukken futbolcular tam anlamıyla birer kahramandır. Formalarını giymek istersin, saçlarını onlar gibi tararsın, uğruna bir sevdaya tutunursun. İşte benim hikayemin kahramanı ‘Moşe’.”
“When you’re a kid footballers are most certainly heroes. You want to wear their jerseys, comb your hair like theirs; for them you hold on to a passion. This is the hero of my story, ‘Moşe’ [The Turkish transliteration of Moshoeu].”
“İnsan öldükten sonra hep iyi şeyler söylenir ya, onun için söylemiyorum; çok kaliteli bir arkadaştı. Kimseyle problem yaşamazdı. Gergin bir ortam oluştuğu zaman hemen yumuşatırdı ortamı. Çok pozitif bir enerjisi vardı. O kadar mütevaziydi ki medyadan kaçardı, öyle çok konuşmazdı. Sevdiğimiz, saydığımız bir kardeşimizdi.”
“After someone dies good things are always said, that’s not why I’m saying it; he was a very quality friend. He didn’t have problems with anyone. If things got tense he would immediately diffuse the situation. He had a lot of positive energy. He was so humble that he ran away from the media, he didn’t talk a lot. He was a brother we loved and respected.”
I send my condolences to the South African football community and the Turkish football community. We have lost a legend–both on and off the field–in John “Shoes” Moshoeu. Toprağın bol olsun mekanın cennet olsun Moşe…
In memory of John Lesiba Moshoeu: 18 December 1965-21 April 2015.
Image Courtesy of: http://hayatimfutbol.com/korfeze-yanasan-sevda/);