Sono still married to soccer

Jomo Sono, coach of Jomo Cosmos during the National Firts Division match between Jomo Cosmos and Black Leopards at the Makhulong Stadium, on the 11 May 2013 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Jomo Sono doesn’t remember what he or his wife said to one another when he finally returned to their wedding in 1979. The “Black Prince” had left his queen midway through the ceremony to help Orlando Pirates overturn a 2-0 deficit to beat Highlands Park 4-2 in one of football’s most romantic stories.

“That’s a long time ago, I don’t remember much,” Sono said. “I remember that there was a big celebration in Orlando. I remember there being many sheep and goats slaughtered. I don’t know where they got them from but everyone had a good time. There was lots of meat. We have four kids now. That’s what I remember.”

Sono has a fifth child, Jomo Cosmos, conceived 32 years ago in his second marriage with this “lady” named football. Ironically, Cosmos was born after he bought the status of Highlands Park to form Ezenkosi. He borrowed half of the name from US team New York Cosmos, where he played alongside the Brazilian great, Pele. Sono’s fifth child has groomed some of the finest talent in the country – from Philemon Masinga, Macbeth Sibaya, Mark Fish and Aaron Mokoena to Pitso Mosimane.

Apart from playing at the highest level, these Cosmos graduates have thick skins which helped them endure difficulties in their careers. Because of that, Masinga could withstand the boo-boys at Bafana Bafana, Mokoena was able to stomach criticism of his competency in the national team and Mosimane has taken everything thrown at him in his stride.

“I love being criticised,” Sono said. “I love when my back is pinned against the wall. It makes me strong. Criticism builds you and it can also destroy you. What I do, I check the criticism. If it’s building me I follow it. If it’s not building me, I throw it into the toilet and move forward. I share that with my players. You can see Pitso. He is thick-skinned. Where is he from? Cosmos. But let’s talk about my celebration.”

Sono celebrated leading Ezenkosi to top-flight football on Wednesday after spending three seasons in the National First Division (NFD). The 1-0 win over Moroka Swallows not only confirmed the Dube Birds’ relegation to the first division for the first time in the club’s glorious history, but ensured Sono gets one over Black Leopards.

Lidoda Duvha relegated Cosmos three seasons ago, but because of Ezenkosi winning the play-offs ahead of them and Swallows, Leopards will be in the NFD for their third season in the 2015/2016 campaign.

“I’ve gone through these things a number of times in my life, from the national team and with Cosmos,” Sono said. “This was my third play-off. I am an expert with play-offs. I am used to these things.”

Sono is also used to ruffling the feathers of those running the game. His stay in the first division hasn’t seen him lose that, but has heightened it. He has labelled the under-23 rule “pathetic”. The rule was put in place to help the junior national teams, especially the under-23s, by forcing NFD clubs to start with five players under the age of 23. But few NFD under-23s have been selected by coach Owen da Gama, which angers Sono.

“It’s terrible. How would you feel? It’s bad. That’s why we have problems with our football in the country because the people who are supposed to play are not playing. Those that are supposed to be selected are not selected,” said Sono. “You pick up the paper, you look at the under-23 squad and you don’t even know 50% of those players. Where are they playing? Maybe they fell like manna from somewhere. The people controlling our football should sit down and talk football. Discuss football matters because there are serious problems with football matters.”

The Black Prince is back. In his marriage with football everyone will remember what he says because he isn’t one of those drab coaches who speaks in cliches.

Sono speaks his mind.

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