All Barker with a bit of bite: Inside coach Clive’s Bafana
Extracts from Clive Barker’s autobiography
‘Coach: The Life and Soccer Times of Clive Barker’ is the insightful biography of SA’s longest-serving national football coach and arguably the most successful following Bafana Bafana’s win in 1996 at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. With the help of writer Michael Marnewick, Barker reveals himself as a dedicated husband and father, and a force to be reckoned with in the football fraternity.
Barker’s journey wasn’t always smooth and detractors felt he was too chummy with his players, or that he was not technically savvy or tactical enough, or who disagreed with his relaxed but focused methods – which proved over and again to yield results. In this extract he discusses the pressures and difficulties of being a national coach.
“We had a love-hate relationship, but that’s common between coaches and the media.” – Carl Peters
While it is easy to reflect on the good times, the successes and the celebrations, coaching can be tough and the players don’t always behave. Then there are pressures, expectations, personalities and instructions, both from inside and out. As coach, there’s a delicate balancing act to play.
There is also a fine line between keeping players in check and giving them the freedom to express themselves as sometimes hot-headed, sometimes just plain mischievous and mostly just being young men among their team mates.
But it wasn’t always fun. There were many occasions in my coaching career when, either by design or bad luck, there was a lot of trouble to fix. Sometimes you use your smart mouth, other times you leg it away from the action.
One year when I was coaching Durban City, we had played a game in Joburg and got the result. We boarded the plane to fly back home but, as everyone knows, the on-flight service only happens once you’re airborne and while the plane sat on the runway waiting to take off, the players asked the air hostess if she could serve the famous brew early. She explained that this wasn’t possible but that she would make a concerted effort to serve them first once we were in the air.
As she moved upfront, the players moved quickly and grabbed the beers, wine and some cold drinks. Eventually we took off and our willing hostess started to serve the players, as promised. Halfway down the aisle, she ran out of beverages and summoned the bursar, who checked for himself and then had to make a most unwelcome call to the rest of the passengers, apologising that the bar was closed and only tea or coffee would be served.
When we disembarked, I noticed that quite a few bags looked rather full but thought nothing of it at the time. Then during our Tuesday training session, (Durban City chairman) Norman Elliot’s sports car flew into the parking lot and he stormed out, ordering Butch to cancel the session and to get all the players into the players’ lounge. Norman had a habit of pointing his finger in a peculiar way when things weren’t going right and he did it this time, spluttering that SAA had contacted him and were investigating what had happened to the alcohol on a certain flight. He produced an invoice for R800, which back then was a tidy sum of money.
To the players’ credit, they admitted to taking the alcohol and the full amount was settled the following day. But we were told in no uncertain terms that this would never have happened before and that we had tarnished the club’s name and image, and had inconvenienced the other passengers.
Guilty as charged.
I think we all ended up singing Shanty Town, Bye-Bye, Blackbird and Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again.
Kaizer Motaung was a very elegant footballer, mature, with extraordinary balance. He played upfront and was able to score a lot of goals. He brought the famous gold and black colours back from America where he played and excelled. I have the highest regard for him and, as a player and later administrator, he had no peer.
Kaizer made huge sacrifices and I wonder how much pressure he was under, politically. But he called the right shots and built a very successful football team, as well as a name for himself and his family. He always put his family first and I can’t say enough good things about him, as a player and an administrator. Kaizer Chiefs’ record speaks for itself, and of course I have personal links, having played them so many times in cup finals – even though we were beaten nearly every time.He was more than able to run and administer the best side in Africa, but lost out on playing opportunities, given our status as a political pariah and the associated sporting isolation at the time.
When we eventually became a democracy, we turned away from dark times. The country was a fireball; everyone wanted change.
The IFP supported AmaZulu while ANC members were for Pirates or Chiefs or, for that matter, anyone from Joburg. At one stage, AmaZulu were playing Sundowns, who were top of the league; we were in second place, and we never touched the ball that match. They hammered us and with that, having lost the game, the IFP supporters turned on the ANC supporters and all hell broke loose.
While cars were being smashed – Sizwe Motaung’s BMW was petrol bombed – we were rushed into the changing rooms for our own safety. The fighting continued outside, but it was getting later and later and we were still stuck inside. Eventually we decided to make a run for it. We had the bus brought closer and climbed aboard. The players pressed their bags up against the windows for protection – and not for the first time either; we had had to do it years before. With that, George Dearnaley, turned around and said: “Hey, coach, but in those days they had sticks and stones, now they’re armed with AK47s.”
Albert des Neves, our director, had been sitting next to me, but following George’s words was now cowering under the seat in abject terror, mouthing: “We’re going to die, we’re going to die.”
The driver put his foot down and we were able to escape.
In 1994 we took Bafana to Australia to play two friendly matches. We had only just started playing international football and, after beating Zimbabwe and Zambia in our first two games, wanted to test the team a little, especially as we had the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers coming up.
For the second match on tour, we had been booked into a hotel that boasted its own nightclub and, after dinner on the Wednesday evening, we all went our own separate ways, either back to the team room or to our hotel rooms.
But one or two guys wanted to check out the nightclub. Then there were three or four of them, apparently there for just one beer. A few minutes later, there were five or six. I walked in and the look of horror on the players’ faces almost made me laugh – if it wasn’t such a serious issue, of course. They knew that they’d been caught out and when I asked what they were doing there, they replied that they were just checking it out. “Just one or two beers, guys, then you must go,” I told them in my strictest voice. We were here to play – and hopefully win – a football match, not party it up.
But as I stood there, more players arrived, until there were seven, eight, nine, 10 of them. “I’m a little bit disappointed in you guys,” I said. “But you are a team and you’re standing together. However, there is one true professional among the team, and I know he’s in his room relaxing and focusing on the game. And that’s Steve Crowley.”
Two seconds later, who walks in but Steve Crowley!Phil or Lucas?
Headaches weren’t only reserved for misbehaving players, but also player selection, as in the Lucas Radebe vs Philemon Masinga conundrum I found myself faced with when I was asked my advice as to which player was the better option when both were at Leeds United.
Both Radebe and Masinga were starting to shine at club and international level and their agent from Durban, Johnny Brooks, sent them overseas for an opportunity to play at Leeds United.
Leeds, unfortunately, had a very conservative supporter base, but with the promise of some English Premiership action, both players tackled their respective tasks.
From time to time, I would phone Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson to obtain the release of Lucas and Philemon to play in the various cup competitions in Africa and although he wasn’t the easiest person to engage with, he would eventually relent and release them. He was fair enough, but the selection of both players for Bafana became a problem as the team became stronger and more successful around the Africa Cup of Nations and then qualifying for the World Cup in France in 1998. I would hear the frustration in his voice each time I called him to release his players to the South African cause.
One day, the phone rang in my office and on the other end was Howard. The first thought – or fear, actually – was that he was calling to tell me Lucas had popped a knee. Fortunately, it was no such catastrophe; he had phoned to ask for my advice on who he should choose between Lucas and Philemon as he only had room for one of them in his squad.
Although they played in different positions, Lucas a defender and Philemon a striker, this decision had the potential to have a huge influence on their careers. So, after careful deliberation – but what a tough call to have to make – I suggested he choose Lucas, which turned out to be the right choice because he went on to play with distinction and honour for Leeds. He is still revered there.
Howard Wilkinson later went on to manage the English national football team, while Philemon Masinga moved on to play in the Italian league where he scored many great goals against top clubs.
But it was an awkward decision for me to make. Both were legends of the game, good friends and great players. It was indeed a difficult choice; I hope I got it right.
Coach: The Life and Soccer Times of Clive Barker by Michael Marnewick published by Jacana Media, R240.