One of my biggest regrets is that I never saw Bernard Hartze aka “Dancing Shoes”, play in my time, as an amateur soccer player in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Considered a legend by many followers of the game, Hartze, 73, died in hospital on Tuesday January 16.
In a statement released by Safa Cape Town, the organisation said the news was confirmed by his daughter, Candice.
The Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport named Hartze as a Sports Legend in 2006. In 2007, he was among a group of 50 past and present players, coaches and officials honoured by the Confederation of African Football during the continental body’s 50th anniversary.
But I knew all about his brilliant soccer skills and exploits on soccer pitches in our country and overseas from tales by fellow soccer players and newspaper and magazine clippings. During his time I did all I could to get to watch him play, but somehow I always missed his games.
Those that knew him or saw him play say he displayed the most tantalisingly soccer wizardry, saying he had opponents chasing shadows and tackling where there was no ball.
“Football-wise I view him as the best soccer player that our country has ever produced,” said fellow South African soccer legend, Abubakaar “Boebie” Solomons.
Having played alongside and against Hartze – whose dazzling dribbling skills and prolific goal-scoring exploits thrilled fans across South Africa and in later years, in America, Solomons remembers all too well the impact Hartze had on the beautiful game.
“He was a very difficult opponent to play against because he had lots of skill and speed and was very intelligent too,” said Solomons.
“In 1970, Bernard scored 54 goals in 30 games for Cape Town Spurs. He has set a great example in football and in character as to the high level an individual can achieve within highly adverse conditions,” he said.
“He was the role-model for most of us, professionals and amateurs. His contribution to the game of soccer was enormous in our country, because people like him gave us tremendous hope during politically oppressive times in South Africa.”
Born and raised in Marabastad, Pretoria, Hartze was involved in starting at Mamelodi Sundowns soccer club, at age 15. He started playing professional football at the age of 16 with Pretoria Callies in the now-defunct South African Football Federation.
Solomons said Hartze, along with Rashid Khan and Joey Lawrence was subsequently signed by Orlando Pirates. However, after a few months, he said, they were stopped by apartheid police, because, as so-coloureds they could not legally enter African townships.
“At the time there had been three separate professional soccer leagues in South Africa – National Professional Soccer League for Africans, National Federation of Professional Football for Coloureds and the National Football League for Whites operating in the country.
“After they were stopped from playing with Orlando Pirates, they came to Cape Town to start Cape Town Spurs in 1970,” said Solomons, who added that it was at Orlando Pirates that Hartze got his Dancing Shoes nickname.
Solomons said it was then that Hartze, Lawrence and then Spurs manager Don Richards came to his house in Athlone to ask his parents’ permission to sign him up.
But being too young at 16, the Western Province Football Board denied their request, he said.
“However, in 1973, they signed me up as a professional with Cape Town Spurs,” Solomons said.
By that time Hartze had moved to Cape Town United professional club, said Solomons, adding that except for friendly matches, he never played alongside Hartze, who also had spells with other SA professional soccer clubs, which included local rivals Glenville FC and Mother City FC.
“In 1976, Bernard, Seraj Abass and myself were signed up by Tampa Bay Rowdies manager Eddie Firmani to play in America, but before I could go I broke my ankle and Seraj didn’t want to go without me,” Solomons said.
Hartze, went to play for Tampa Bay for about three years against teams such New York Cosmos, which included all time world greats such as Brazil’s Pele and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, said Solomons.
Other South African players who featured in American teams at the time included Jomo Sono, Ace Ntsoelengoe, Kaiser Motaung, Steve Wegerle, Teenage Dladla and David Byrne.
More international opportunities came their way, said Solomons. In 1966 English league club Leeds wanted to sign Hartze, Rashid Khan and Dougie Carelse, but was prevented by work permit problems, he said.
He said that besides being crowned South African Football Federation footballer of the year multiple times and multiple time top league goalscorer, Hartze had also been a player-coach for Mother City, Spurs and Glenville.
- Ray Wolf is a former reporter on Southern Mail, one of a number of titles published by Cape Community Newspapers.