That 1996 African Nations Cup decider will forever be remembered as ‘the Mark Williams final’ as the striker came off the bench to net twice in the space of three minutes and write his name into the country’s folklore.
Williams reveals the day did not start quite as he expected, but from early in the morning he had “a divine belief” that he would play a pivotal role in deciding the fortunes of the final.
“We met president Nelson Mandela before every game at 6am at our hotel and the Final was no different,” Williams says in the February edition of KICK OFF Magazine. “Usually he greeted the captain [Neil Tovey] first before speaking to the players, but on this occasion I was late into the room, at one minute to six, and so I was on the end of the line.
“Madiba said to me, ‘Mark, today you are going to war, but no matter what happens the country is behind you’ and he hugged me. I was awestruck, even just that he knew my name, and it took me into another world.
“We then had the pre-match meal where Clive announced the team. I was there, but I don’t remember any of it, I was floating on such great emotions.
“One of the reporters had asked me in the morning how many goals I would score in the final and I just held up the Amakhosi peace sign, you know, which signals two.
“We got to the stadium and the players started getting changed. I put my kit on and noticed that Andre Arendse was looking at me strangely.
“I asked him why and he said to me, ‘you’re putting on the wrong kit, you’re not starting the game’. I looked around and sure enough counted the players who were starting. “I think that I had just assumed that going into the game, with Phil Masinga having missed the semi-final through suspension, that I would play.
“That knocked me back a bit, but it did not make me any less determined to do what I believed I was there for. I just had to get on the pitch!”
Williams says he used every trick in his repertoire to try and catch the attention of coach Barker as the match progressed, scoreless.
“Into the second half and there was still no score, the fans started to chant ‘Free Willy’ and I thought, ‘that must be me they are calling’. But there was still no movement from the coaching staff.
“I actually moved myself from the middle of the dug-out to the end so the fans could see me and start chanting again.
“I told the person sitting there that I needed to be on the end so that I could stretch my stiff muscles, but it was just so I could be more visible to the fans. And sure enough they started chanting again.
“Finally Clive called me to go on and the rest is history. “After celebrating the first goal I remember looking up at Madiba in the president’s suite and he had tears in his eyes. I could see them even though I was 50 metres away, it was like I was looking through a telescope.
“Doctor Khumalo gave me a great pass for the second goal. Before he passed he had made a brilliant tackle too. He had a great game.”
“I honestly believe I was called by God to do something that great that day,” he said through a strained voice. “I can feel it now even as I am speaking to you 20 years later. It is a hard thing to explain, I just knew it was my destiny.”
Here’s the line-ups of South Africa’s proudest moment in our footballing history:
Nations Cup Final
SA 2 (Williams 73, 75) Tunisia 0
Att: 80 000
SA: Arendse, Motaung, Tovey, Fish, Radebe, Tinkler, Buthelezi (Mkhalele 51), Khumalo, Moshoeu, Bartlett, Masinga (Williams 65)
Tunisia: El Ouaer, Boukadida, Rekhissa, Chouchane, Jaballah, Beya, Bouazizi (Hassen 77), Fekhi, Godhbane (Hanini 46), Sellimi, Slimane
Read about the entire Afcon fairytale from the eyes of the players in camp themselves, in the new edition of KICK OFF magazine, out now! Or download a digital copy here!