Hepworth reflects on Africa journey

by Ashley Houghton

Former Sunderland player recalls time in South Africa.

Former Sunderland player Maurice Hepworth holds a unique relationship with Africa having played his best football on the continent.

Maurice was deputy to long-serving full back Cec Irwin and played just two first-team games, both of which resulted in wins over Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday respectively.

However, following a near fatal injury the week prior to the 1973 FA Cup Final, his career would stall and post-recovery he would move to South Africa to play for Arcadia Shepherds.

“I was in the squad for the FA Cup final,” Hepworth recalled. “I was playing in a reserve game the week before and I suffered an injury and nearly died on the pitch.

“That was the end of my Sunderland career, to be honest, as Bob Stokoe sent me away to play some games when I recovered and I never really got back in the fold.

“I went to the Arcadia Shepherds and we won the treble, by the time I come back to Sunderland I wasn’t going to get back into the team so I moved to South Africa.”

Maurice was part of the monumental developments in South African sport which saw the first black player to be involved in a mixed-race league - Vincent Julius of the Shepherds, in 1976.

“We were the first South African team to play a black player - we were the pioneers of a multi-racial league that welcomed black players for the first time,” he added.

“The year before I had been named African Footballer of the Year; whilst I was there we won two league titles and appeared in two cup finals.

“I remember going to play in Soweto against the Orlando Pirates in front of 50,000 people."

Maurice broke his leg whilst playing in a match in 1980, an injury that all but ended his playing career.

When his playing days were finished, Maurice worked for PepsiCo, Pizza Hut and KFC in managerial roles before returning to the north east with Newcastle Breweries.

And in 2010 Maurice set up his own coaching and leadership firm, ‘MH Coaching and Leadership’, which ranges from coaching support in football to life skills and also curriculum education.

The company has worked closely with Kevin Ball and staff at the Academy of Light as well as working with local schools.