Firstly thank you for doing this interview.
- OM: Looking back at your first professional game, how was it playing with the likes of Owen “Ace” Nzimande, Muzi “Mr House” Khumalo, Dees Abdul, Archie Hadebe and the Special Sithole?
GD:My first game for AmaZulu was against Fairway Stars in January 1990 – we won 3 – 0 and I scored the 2nd goal (Dees Abdul got the other two). It was great, I had been training with the team a few years before when I was still at school so I knew the names and I had watched the team play in the late 1980’s – so it was fantastic to be on the field with them. Archie ‘Juluka’ Hadebe was one of the best players, Fred ‘Junior’ Njiyela, Muzi ‘Mr House’ Khumalo and Dees Abdul – great players but also really good people.
- OM: It seems like South African soccer back in the days used to be quite entertaining. Is it still as entertaining as it was while you were playing in the 90’s?
GD:To be honest the game back then was slower, so we had more time on the ball – the game today is unbelievable fast! Today’s players are better athletes, fitter & stronger, but perhaps this is at the expense of technical ability. I don’t like comparing the game from the 80’s to the 90’s and from my time to the current generation – things have changed and we need to accept that. I still find things to be excited about and am still entertained by certain players and teams, but the pressure of losing these days means that most coaches and teams would rather draw 0 – 0 every week than risk losing a match by attacking.
- OM: You guys back in the 90’s had a bit more passion and loved the sport whole heartedly. What do you think is lacking in the South African soccer today?
GD:Again, it’s not for older players to say that the current guys have less or more passion – I just think there are different priorities. There is a lot more money today, there is a lot more media coverage – these are perhaps distractions for the current guys. We just focussed on playing as well as we could – the money was maybe the 2nd thing on our minds. When a player signed for a club back in the ‘old days’ it was for a minimum 5 years – but today players (and agents) make money every time the player transfers or signs another contract, so this has been a big change in terms of how players think about their careers.
- OM: If you had to look at now and then. Would you have preferred playing now or back in the 90’s?
GD:I think all the older players would love the money that the guys today get paid! I at least had the opportunity to play for Bafana, I think the legends of the 80’s missed out on so much because of isolation. Imagine a Bafana team with Ace Ntsoelengoe, Teenage Dladla, Professor Ngubane and Jomo Sono!! They would all loved to have been playing now – sadly I’m not sure the current crop of professional players realise how lucky they are. So many opportunities that never existed only 20 years ago! I’m happy to have played when I did, as things worked out for me mostly, but I wouldn’t mind playing today too – I think the modern SA game could do with a target man or two up front!
- OM: Why is that?
GD:Apart from the money, I think if you do well these days you are set up for life with regards business opportunities. Because of the massive media coverage players are better known and the really good players benefit from all this coverage with regards to sponsorships and business opportunities.
- OM: Soccer is a multi racial sport. Though we have very great white soccer players been seen here and there. Do you think everyone no matter what race, gets the same chance or its quite hard for a white soccer player to break the clutter and make his way into the premier league?
GD:Sadly I think less white kids are playing soccer in SA. I don’t think this is just a SA problem, I think middle to upper income kids around the World are less active in sport because of all the other entertainment options. Poorer kids will always play soccer – it doesn’t matter where in the World! I think that’s why there are so many African and South American players making it in Europe – they are hungrier to succeed than their European or North American counterparts. The Eastern Europeans are also making it in the bigger leagues because their countries are poorer than those in Western Europe. You still find great talent in Europe but most of these players will come from the poorer immigrant neighbourhoods.
- OM: If you look at the number of white players today in the PSL, do you think it has changed or we are still facing the same problem?
GD: Early in my playing days(1990 – 1993) there were still some ‘white’ teams! Wits University, Manning Rangers and Hellenic had more white players than non-white, but the demographics slowly changed and by the late 1990’s you couldn’t call them ‘white teams’ any more. I think there are less white players in the PSL than in those days but I don’t think it is because there are less white people playing soccer – honestly, I think the level of football has dropped at school and club level because of various reasons, and I don’t think we are producing white players of the quality of the previous generations.
- OM: Regarding the players. We see less commitment from our players today and they tend to phase out. Do you think our PSL players are being spoiled so much that they ease off and forget to do the job?
GD: I can’t say if it is less commitment – I think there are more distractions and it can be easier to lose focus. You also have to ask how hungry a player is when he gets a R 300 000 signing on fee and R 45 000 a month salary – I won’t mention any names, but I’ve chatted to young players who say they have ‘made it’ when they reach the PSL…without understanding that they actually have to aim higher! Why can’t a player from SA play for Barcelona or Real Madrid? Why do players from other African countries make it at the top teams in Europe but our players are happy to go sit on the bench in Sweden and Belgium?
- OM: I think you’re a true role model to upcoming soccer players. As I believe you finished school and varsity then played. How important is an education in a soccer player’s career?
GD: Thanks. I’ve tried to pass on info to younger players and share my experience. I think it is that for every 1 000 kids who want to play professionally, perhaps only 1 or 2 will make it! So you have to ask how the other 998 kids per 1000 are planning for their future? Once a player actually makes it as a pro, I think they should continue learning so they have something to fall back on when the playing career ends. You are never too old to learn!
- OM: You where in America for a bit of time. Where there reasons of you not staying there to play professionally?
GD: I was at College on a soccer scholarship in 1990 and 91. I left because there was no sign of any future pro soccer in America, and because SA had been readmitted into FIFA and I wanted to be a part of it. My dad called me after a conversation with Clive Barker in December 1991 – he told my dad he was going to be the AmaZulu coach in the New Year and that SA were going to compete in World Cup 1994 qualifiers – I flew back 2 weeks later and the rest is history.
- OM: Which player was your toughest competitor back in the days?
GD: Oh, lots of ‘hard men’ and some dirty ones too! John Salter of Cosmos was hard as nails, Bricks Modau, Shoes Lushozi, Gavin Lane, Peter Gordon, Dance Malesela, Howard Freeze, Lucas Radebe, John Mbidzo, Mandla Sithole, Bradley Muir – I always had one of the big defenders following me around because I’m tall! Most of the time I got kicked on the back of my legs, I don’t know why I had to wear shin pads!
- OM: Which team always got you guys nervous and scared before playing against it?
GD: When I played for AmaZulu we weren’t scared of anyone – but we looked forward to playing Chiefs and Pirates the most. The problem with that is you do well against the ‘big’ teams but you lose focus or concentration when you play the smaller teams – and it’s the same 3 points you are playing for! But Free State Stars in Botshabelo was never easy!
- OM: Do you think South African Soccer is growing to become one of the best in the world, or that we still need quite a bit of time and work?
GD: No, I think we have a false sense of how good we are. For a country like SA, with our resources, our facilities, our population size and everything else, I think we should be number 1, or 2 in Africa or 3rd at worst! We should be challenging for Continental honours at International level and even our clubs should be doing well in the African competitions – until we get to the point where our teams dominate the region, we have a lot of work to do.
- OM: There’s a lot of talented players in the PSL, who do you think we can say is a George Dearnaley in the making?
GD: Well hopefully they are better than me! I scored 61 goals in 124 professional matches that I started – and sadly, it is an area of the game that needs a lot of work – scoring goals! Ndulula at Pirates and Ncobo at Chiefs have the same type of physical qualities I had, but I’m not sure if they know or are being taught how to use their bodies up front. They both seem to lack confidence but once they start scoring goals regularly, they won’t stop. I just hope they aim higher than trying to emulate me!
GD: Undoubtedly 1992. Golden Boot winner, Young Player of the Year Runner up, Players Player of the Year Runner up, Player of the Year Runner up, Bafana Bafana debut and scoring the winning goal in the Coke Cup final against Kaizer Chiefs! Stuff of dreams.
- OM: If you had to pick a team to play for in today’s PSL teams, which one would it be?
GD: I like the service the Pirates strikers get from the flanks! I like the money at Sundowns! And I always wanted to play for Chiefs! Does that answer your question? Then I would play for AmaZulu again!!!