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Friday, February 7, 2014

07: AFRICA.

The first Columbus Crew player that I remember is Doctor Khumalo.

In 1995, Theophilus "Doctor" Khumalo was the first player allocated to the Columbus Crew. Most people think of Brian McBride when they think of the earliest days of the Crew, and while he was the first player drafted and the first MVP of the Crew, it was Khumalo, the creative midfielder, around whom the technical staff attempted to build the 1996 team. Some might find it surprising that Khumalo was also the first player the Columbus Crew signed from an Argentine club. Before coming to Columbus, Khumalo played briefly in Buenos Aires for Club Ferro Carril Oeste. That's an interesting fact about this player from South Africa, especially when one considers the great Argentine players who have followed to the Crew over the years.

Doctor Khumalo was the one player that I remember watching closely on the field during the first and only match I saw in person at Ohio Stadium in 1996. McBride was obviously great even at that early stage in his career. Even someone like me who was still very new to the concept of American professional soccer could tell that he was special. But Doctor Khumalo stood out to me. I remember thinking that he was seeing this game differently than the rest of the players on the field. I remember describing his playing style to friends afterward as "slick." I really enjoyed seeing him play, and it seemed somehow cool that he was here. Very cool.

In a manner of speaking, one could say that Doctor Khumalo was the first designated player in Major League Soccer—sort of a David Beckham a decade before David Beckham. His talent and world-wide fame were no where near that of Beckham, and his impact on the league was also significantly less, but it was certainly a big deal for new league to bring in an international talent and South African hero like Khumalo. Last year, Khumalo was named by goal.com as the 6th greatest South African soccer player of all time.

It's still a little strange that he ended up in Columbus playing for the Crew. There are some theoretical explanations, though they seem a little too contrived. Who knows if there was a tie-in between Khumalo coming to Columbus and the fact that the Crew share the Kaizer Chiefs' Black & Gold colors. Was that a factor, conscious or subconscious, for why MLS decided to allocate him here? And is it possible that there was something to the fact that Lamar Hunt's greatest sports franchise was the Kansas City Chiefs, and Hunt's ownership of the Crew was why the Kaizer Chiefs' legend was allocated to Columbus? I really doubt it, but players have ended up with MLS teams for weird reasons over the years.

Nevertheless, Kaizer Chiefs' crest and the Columbus Crew crest share some qualities. They're both a little odd as symbols for their respective cities, but each are interesting and iconic in their own ways. Since this project is about soccer crests and how they work in relationship to their clubs and their communities, let's briefly look at the history of Doctor Khumalo's first club, Kaizer Chiefs FC, and then we'll get back around to Columbus.

Kaizer Chiefs FC is thoroughly South African, yet like so many great clubs they have an international origin. Also, as is the case of so many great soccer clubs around the world, their origin is tied to their greatest rival. The club was founded in 1970 by Kaizer Motaung, a forward who started his playing career at the age of 16 for Orlando Pirates FC, the Chiefs' biggest rival against whom they compete in one of the great series in world football, the Soweto Derby. Motaung eventually made his way to the United States, and in 1968 he joined the first Atlanta Chiefs of the North American Soccer League. (The first Atlanta Chiefs would fail, then be resurrected in 1979 by Ted Turner, then fail again in 1981.) He returned to South Africa and started his own club in 1970, calling them Kaizer Chiefs FC after his first name and the name of the team in Atlanta. For a club crest, he borrowed the design of the Atlanta Chiefs—a profile of a Native American chief in full headdress, changing the colors from red and white to black and gold.

Kaizer Chiefs FC quickly became a national soccer power, then a continental power, then a globally recognized brand, and one of the catalysts for their success was Doctor Khumalo. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Khumalo was a force. He eventually left South Africa to try his skills in a more competitive and high profile league in Argentina, and then to MLS.

In 1996 Khumalo came to Columbus. While playing for the Crew, Khumalo was selected as a 1996 MLS All-Star along with Brian McBride. His form while in Columbus was up and down. His statistics are available on the MLS website, though his photo, it seems, is not. He didn't have the impact on the Crew and the league that many hoped, and he soon departed Columbus and MLS. It seemed like he and the new league just didn't fit. He certainly wasn't the only or the last international superstar to have that problem in MLS. But he did leave a legacy, all be it brief . . . and an action figure, all be it small.

While Khumalo played for the Crew, he was also one of the most important players on the South African national team—Bafana Bafana—and led them to their only African Cup of Nations title in 1996. He had by that time become a legend in South African soccer, scoring the first ever goal for Bafana Bafana in a 1-0 victory over Cameroon in 1992. (I couldn't find video of that goal, but I did find this—the entire match of South Africa vs. Zambia from 1992. The Internet is awesome.)

Later that year, South Africa played against Brazil, the World Cup Champions of 2 years earlier, in the friendly Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup. The South Africans raced ahead 2-0 on a corner kick and a goal from Khumalo. The Brazil team of those years was incredibly powerful and eventually overtook South Africa to win 3-2 (the third goal by Brazil in this match is utterly insane), but what a scene this was. Take a moment to watch this video of highlights from the match.

Khumalo's is a spectacular goal. I watch this video and my spine tingles. The atmosphere in Soccer City for a home match; the opponent, Brazil, the then World Cup Champions; the build up; the desperate deflection and 50/50 header in the Brazil penalty area; the bounce to the foot of Khumalo who takes it out of the air and sends it past the goalkeeper in the lower far corner; making the impossible seem so easy; making the unlikely seem inevitable. It's the essence of the global game materializing for a heart-stopping moment in front of tens of thousands of a nation's home fans. It's so wonderful.

This is also wonderful. This is video of Bafana Bafana legends Stanley Tshabala (manager), Neil Tovey (captain), and Doctor Khumalo reminiscing about the early days of the South African National Team following the end of Apartheid and the reinstatement of the team to international play. It's really great to watch.

So, today's crest is inspired by the African history of the Columbus Crew, going back to our first player, Doctor Khumalo, and continuing until today with our leading goal scorer, Dominic Oduro. There have been several players from Africa to wear the Crew crest over the years. Emmanuel Ekpo, Kei Kamara, Joseph Ngwenya, Stanley Nyazamba, and currently Oduro, Tony Tchani, and 2014 SuperDraft pick Kingsley "Fifi" Baiden. And then there's also the endearing fondness for the Toto song "Africa" that Crew supporters have taken to singing at supporters' bars, thanks to Big Kev and the Crew Supporters Union supporters group. (Click here to see Toto Football, the alternative Crew lyrics that I came up with last January.)

African soccer and its history are endlessly interesting. I regret that I don't follow it as closely as I'd like. African soccer often seems like a continuation of Africa's widely diverse history, art, and culture. While there are similarities and themes that carry across the different nations of Africa, the scope and variety of the the continent and the history of its peoples and cultures would take a lifetime to appreciate. As an art history student, I took several African art classes, and loved every one. I remember as a kid in the late 1980s helping my mom study for exams in her African art college classes. I think that was the first time that I realized just how big and diverse the world was. So appreciation of African art is important to me, though I hardly consider myself an expert.

That said, I had strong ideas on how to do this logo. I wanted to focus on the Ghanaian traditional strip-woven kente cloth as inspiration. The colors and patterns of kente are strong and symbolic. In kente, black signifies age, strong spiritual energy, and ancestral strength. Yellow signifies holiness, fertility, and wealth. White signifies purity, sanctification, and special occasions. There are hundreds of different kente patterns and so much to learn about the art. I've used a pattern that I think is attractive and similar to achimota nsofoa, which means unity in diversity and harmony. I've enclosed it inside 2 "C" shapes.

I'd love to hear from those who have more knowledge than me about kente and African art, and find out what they think about the use of such imagery for this project. This is another fantastic opportunity to learn.



There is currently a noticeable tendency to turn the redesign of the Columbus Crew crest in a decidedly German direction. It's understandable. I think to entirely wrap the identity of the Columbus Crew in German stylization, design systems, and presentation, while not unfounded (I've already included German elements in designs for this series) would be a bit of a mistake. The team seems to moving in German, or at least European, directions in terms of coaches, players, perhaps playing style (we'll see), but that's different than how a team should represent its past, present, future as well as its city to the rest of the world through its badge or imagery.

Columbus is so much more than German Village and the fraction of its historic population that came from Germany; and the culture that surrounds the Columbus Crew—as I hope this blog post illustrates—is so much more than the Nordecke and beer. The Black and Gold colors are so much more than just similar to Borussia Dortmund. This is an international team in an international town. Yes, the German heritage of portions of this city are important and incredibly interesting, but that doesn't tell the story of this city. Not even close.

Take a 30 minute walk through my favorite neighborhood—Old North Columbus, just west down Hudson Street from Crew Stadium—and you'll see businesses and restaurants that are Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Central American, South American, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Thai, North African, East African, West African, Jamaican, Irish, and on and on. There are churches, mosques, and temples of all sorts. There are gay bars, straight bars, lesbian bars, drag bars, hookah bars, dive bars, college bars, diners, carry outs, private clubs, music clubs, coffee shops, barbershops, and a neighborhood hardware store. Within 10 minutes bike ride you can find hangouts for people from Afghanistan, to Korea, to Zimbabwe. Some people call parts of Old North "Awesometown" for a reason, but it's like this in many places in our city. Asking a city that is this diverse and dynamic to invest the entire international scale and scope of its love for the global game into the narrow focus of one particular national soccer identity would be selling our city short. I hope that Anthony Precourt and those who have his ear understand this about Columbus. I hope that this series can add to their understanding.


1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful! A solid crest and a really fun read. Well done!

    ReplyDelete