Bill, Hurry Hurry and Shine: SA’s ties to the FA Cup final

Bill, Hurry Hurry and Shine: SA’s ties to the FA Cup final
A mural of Leeds United club legends Albert Johanneson and Lucas Radebe, as well as homegrown midfielder Kalvin Phillips painted by Akse P19 on a building in the Calls to celebrate the partnership between Roc Nation and Leeds United FC on 15 December 2020 in Leeds, United Kingdom. (Photo: Visionhaus)

South Africa can’t claim a regular presence in one of the world’s most famous sporting contests, but three players did make their mark and are worth remembering. 

The venerable English FA Cup final is 151 years old, but this year’s clash, between the two halves of Manchester, was “only” the 142nd playing since 1871 – because of interruptions during the two world wars.  

The event has lost some of its lustre, but the occasion retains a hold on the global football imagination and, for many great players, an FA Cup final appearance is high on their career wish list.

Sadly, very few South Africans have fulfilled that dream. None of our top-grade exports in the Premier League era – Lucas Radebe, Benni McCarthy, Quinton Fortune, Steven Pienaar, Mark Fish, Shaun Bartlett and Andre Arendse – made it. And I can only track three South Africans who have ever done so.

The pioneer was Bill Perry. Born in Johannesburg in 1930, Perry played outside left (attacking midfielder in today’s parlance) for the local Rangers club before joining Blackpool in 1949.

He played 394 games for the Tangerines, including a loss to Newcastle United in the 1951 final and a 4-3 win over Bolton in the iconic 1953 final, which is known as the Matthews Final, even though Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick for Blackpool and Perry himself scored the 92nd-minute winner.

Stan Matthews was the world’s most famous footballer at the time. The wizard winger was 38 years old, yet he still mesmerised his opponents and created an emotional triumph. He had a powerful South African connection, spending much time here between 1953 and 1978 and, at one point, forming a Soweto team known as Stan’s Men, which toured Brazil in defiance of apartheid norms.

Perry was capped three times for England before retiring and running a successful printing business in Blackpool. He died, revered in Lancashire, in 2007.  

Hurry Hurry

It took 14 years for South Africans to follow in Perry’s footsteps. In 1965, Leeds United winger Albert Johanneson became the first black player to take part in an FA Cup final as a member of Don Revie’s great side (Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, Jack Charlton, Johnny Giles and all).

Johanneson, who was nicknamed “Hurry Hurry” and the “Black Flash”, was a true trailblazer. Born in Germiston in 1940 or thereabouts (records are unclear), he played for the Coloured XI in the Kajee Cup before a local scout recommended him to Leeds. In 1959, he became the first signing of Revie’s storied career at Elland Road.

Johanneson’s journey mirrored in some ways that of cricket’s Basil D’Oliveira, who also played football in the Kajee Cup for the Coloured XI.

August 1968: South African footballer Albert Johanneson of Leeds United in training. (Photo: Evening Standard / Getty Images)

Johanneson became a star in spite of suffering appalling racial abuse off the field and on (even though his notoriously hard teammates such as Bremner and Hunter reportedly took vengeance on any opponent who taunted him).

His bravery and dazzling style of wing play inspired George Best, among many others. Johanneson took undue blame from supporters for his mediocre performance in the 2-1 extra-time loss in the 1965 FA Cup final to Bill Shankly’s Liverpool.

Injuries soon took their toll on Johanneson and he descended into alcoholism after retirement. He was begging on the streets of Leeds before his death in 1995, when he would have been in his mid-50s.

There is a moving and detailed article about Johanneson in These Football Times by Paul McParlan. It reports tragically: “His body had remained undiscovered for several days in a tiny council flat in a tower block. So destitute had he become that a single seashell was listed amongst his possessions.”

The young Bailey

The final member of our FA Cup final trio is goalkeeper Gary Bailey. He was born in England but spent virtually all his childhood in South Africa. Bailey came to prominence with Wits University before paying his own way back to England for trials, where he was signed by Manchester United and became their No 1 for seven years, playing 294 times.

Bailey’s first FA Cup final appearance in 1979 against Arsenal did not go well as he was criticised (again unfairly) for failing to cut out a cross, which led to a late 3-2 win for the Gunners. He was back at Wembley in 1983 to redeem himself against Brighton. The first match finished 2-2, with Bailey producing a stunning save in the dying moments of extra time to force the replay, which United won 4-0.

In 1985, Bailey got a second FA Cup winner’s medal and another clean sheet in a 1-0 triumph over a powerful, treble-chasing Everton.

16 May 1985: Gary Bailey of Manchester United in action during the FA Cup Final match against Everton played at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Manchester United won the match 1-0. (Photo: Allsport UK / Allsport)

Bailey played twice for England before returning to South Africa to finish his career with Kaizer Chiefs, where he acquired the nickname “Shine”.

He became a prominent radio and television sports presenter before moving to the US with his wife, Miss Universe 1992 Michelle McLean.

This diverse trio of talented South African footballers made six FA Cup Final appearances (seven if you count Bailey’s replay against Brighton) and won three times. But it’s the bittersweet tale of the one who never won, the pioneering son of Germiston, Johanneson, that lingers longest in our conflicted sporting history. DM

Mike Wills is a journalist and talk show host.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


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