Moonlighters Football Club: A History

Childhood Football

Like most young black South Africans, members of Moonlighters learned their skills in the streets of Fordsburg and Doornfontein. Playing conditions were basic. Equipment was almost non-existent, with many children playing barefooted with a tennis ball and goalposts made out of two piles of bricks or clothing.

Young boys sharpened their ball control and earned reputations in street games; they also competed in school matches which were better organized and featured regulation footballs and goalposts. These experiences provided a stepping stone to joining Moonlighters or other clubs in the area.
“I was born in Doornfontein in Johannesburg in 1939 and all I can remember of my childhood was playing around with a tennis ball, playing soccer in the streets . . . having a heck of a lot of pick-up games with the neighbors’ kids and everything else.” (Pikkie Annanmalay, in interview with Robert Vassen)

Family and Community Bonds

Indian families and football were inextricably linked. What stands out about Moonlighters’ past is the strong sense of family and community that the team engendered. It was taken for granted that sons would join Moonlighters and continue the tradition, following in the footsteps of their fathers just as their fathers had done before them.

From the 1930s through the 1950s, Moonlighters represented a particular group of families, including Asvat, Moodley, Moosa, Naidoo, Padayachee, Thomas, and Vassen, among others. Club "elders" spent considerable time and energy fostering this tradition of continuity and family ties: coaxing, cajoling, and in some cases coercing youths into membership. Those youngsters who rebelled and attempted to break away from Moonlighters in order to join a different club would face disciplinary action or, worse, social ostracism.

Listen to Ananmalay interview segment Listen to second Ananmaly segment Watch Vassen segment

From Amateurism to Professionalism

Moonlighters were an amateur club that fielded two teams: one in the first division and another in the second division of the Witwatersrand Indian Football Association (Wits). After the rise of apartheid in 1948, the mass popularity of football increased, and this led to the formation of the Transvaal League, which Moonlighters joined together with the best Indian teams in the province. Moreover, the club provided many top players who represented Wits, Transvaal, and South Africa in Indian-only competitions. As the quality of the competition improved, Moonlighters intensified their training and earned the distinction of being the first club in their league to benefit from the services of a professional coach. Eight members of Moonlighters played in the professional South African Soccer League, which opposed apartheid in the 1960s. Ironically, the success of Moonlighters led to a loss of talent and the club’s ultimate demise as professionalism developed further and racially divided football waned.

Breakdown of Racial Segregation

In apartheid South Africa, not only was football segregated between whites and blacks, but also between African, Coloured, and Indian. The 1950s ushered in a new desire among black South Africans to play across the color line, just as apartheid was being entrenched. As a result, formal and informal matches across racial and ethnic lines took place. Moonlighters, for instance, played against Orlando Pirates in the late 1950s. Its members, alongside other black fans, cheered for Wolverhampton Wanderers (1951, 1957) and Newcastle (1952) against all-white South African teams in order to express their opposition to apartheid. On the playing field, many Moonlighters also were picked to play for racially integrated teams in the Transvaal Inter-Race Soccer Board and in the South African Soccer Federation’s Kajee Cup. Taken together, these bold attempts at enjoying sport without regard to race amounted to a vocal rejection of apartheid and racism.

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