In everyone’s eyes Mark Haskins is a former footballer who enjoyed a 12-year career in the PSL. Seems simple enough, and yet Haskins is so much more interesting than that. The multi-talented man from Eldorado Park was a 6-sport athlete. ‘Mapotris’ effortlessly excelled in soccer, rugby, field hockey, tennis, basketball, and athletics.
Now that is fairly interesting itself, but what you may not know is that Haskins, who started off as a pacey striker, made the grade for Gauteng’s provincial hockey team and would easily be a schools record holder in some track events if records back then were kept.
“I’ve always been a really good athlete. I didn’t even play football at school,” says Haskins. For starters, his high school personal bests are pretty impressive for a teenager. Initially, he specialised in 400m, where his personal best was 47 seconds, more or less the same as Bongani Sithole’s national schools record of 47.08 set in 2017.
Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, a 400m gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, describes his personal best as “extremely remarkable for a high school athlete”. In 800m, where Ntuthuko Ndimande holds the national schools record at 1:50.23 seconds, Haskins’ best finish as a youngster was 1.57 seconds.
“In Matric, I got a burst of pace and I started doing sprints. My personal best for 200 m was 21.6 seconds,” he says. South Africa’s current national schools record of 21.19 seconds was set by Tsebo Matsoso of the Free State in 2018.
Perhaps, just perhaps, if it were not for apartheid restrictions, ‘Mapotris’ would have taken hockey further than he did.
“They didn’t consider us because of the restrictions they had. They needed 2 players (of colour) per team and there were 4 teams – A, B, C and D. Unfortunately, I was a player of colour. Even though I was worth my place in the team, the coach never considered me until we were knocked out of a major tournament. He was shocked when he played me afterwards,” says Haskins, who has journalism qualification he acquired from Wits University.
Forget about the typical holiday activities like game drives, a walk to the beach or a family fishing trip, his ideal vacation is quite a unique one. Luckily, he has his son, Mikael, 15, to tag along each time he wants to shoot the hoops. “My idea of a perfect holiday is going to a sports resort and just fooling around on different fields – different sports – I love sport,” he reveals.
Nonetheless, it was never in doubt that football is where he came alive. “It’s something I couldn’t run away from,” admits Haskins, who also has a 12-year-old daughter, Zoe.
And as they say, it takes a village to raise a child! That old African proverb rings true when you trace his footballing journey. Nassar Jardine, 59, was not just a neighbour. He became the first man to hone the skills of Haskins the budding footballer. For Jardine, who turned out for amateur side Sporting FC in Eldorado Park in his youthful days, the idea was to find a team for his son to express his football talent.
Little did he know that he would stumble upon a boy who would go on to play football at the highest level. In the end, thanks to his passion for the game, he ended up with 5 age group teams in Eldorado Park, a Johannesburg township that lies on the southern boundary of Soweto.
“Uncle Jardine would pack over 10 of us in his yellow Opel Ascona and drive us to the Extension 6 grounds where we used to play. I stayed in Extension 2,” Haskins says. Jardine was clearly fond of his old jalopy, a large family car produced by the German automaker Opel from 1970 to 1988.
“I remember being stopped by the police who reminded me it was an overload. Once the kids were out of the car, you would not believe they all came out of it. So, one day I said to the cops ‘please help me carry some of these kids to the ground’ and they said ‘we can’t do that with a police vehicle, please go’,” he says as he bursts into laughter.
When he met Haskins, the former youth international was only an enthusiastic 7-year-old. His talent was certainly undoubtable. His gusto was there for all to see. “I give credit to people like Uncle Nassar Jardine, I know all around the country there are unsung heroes like him. He gave me my first football lessons, he taught me invaluable lessons,” Naskins says.
Uncle Jardine, who worked for a reputable local company as an insurance underwriter, often played social worker when any of his boys were seemingly going errant, engaging parents or sometimes teachers.
When he was approaching 16, his uncle Joey Lawrence took him under his wing at the Mondeor Meteors FC. Lawrence attributes his rise to determination.
The full year (2000) he spent at the Florida Atlantic University where he majored in business economics saw him play 17 college football fixtures. Mark Haskins the striker tallied 40 shots, which was the second most on the team. He then led the Owls with 9 goals and 7 assists.
It warmed Jardine’s heart when Haskins made his PSL debut a few years after leaving his amateur club. His brightest prodigy even made it sweeter when he delivered his original playing jersey.
“That was the proudest moment for me, I wasn’t there when he brought the jersey. He gave it to my wife and said, ‘this is for my uncle and coach’. I probably slept in it on that day,” he says jokingly.
Lawrence vividly remembers the day Haskins caught the eye of the Black Prince of South African Soccer – Jomo Sono – at the Marks Park in 2001.
He is convinced Mjomana’s mind about signing him was made up. Even missing a sitter with an open goal would not change his mind, Lawrence says.
“He was one of the fastest strikers. I don’t know (how he changed to play central midfield), but when he switched it affected him. On the day Jomo signed him, he missed a sitter but Jomo still signed him. I suppose he was nervous because he knew Jomo was there watching him,” Lawrence says.
Haskins spent 4 years at Jomo Cosmos before moving to Swallows in 2005 where he spent another 4 years. He also had a stint with Bidvest Wits. Haskins’ last appearance in professional football was in the 2013 Nedbank Cup Final when he played 120 minutes for SuperSport United against Kaizer Chiefs.
Sadly, Haskins never got the opportunity to represent Bafana Bafana at senior level. A football journalist once wrote a full-blown article that said he was a Namibian international.
“For some strange reason, there’s a journalist who did a full-on article that said I’m a full Namibian national. I cannot say that is why I never played for Bafana but it’s certainly strange. I feel there is a point where I warranted a call up. I don’t think I deserved to be a regular in Bafana but there were points where I felt I did enough to earn a call up and at least have a look in, in the national team,” explains the 39-year-old.
At the time, Moroka Swallows had the Namibia trio of Henrico ‘Henna’ Botes, Mohammed ‘Slice’ Ouseb and George Hummel. “The journalist probably thought I was one of them,” says the television sports analyst.
Lawrence, however, feels his nephew didn’t reach his full potential after the change from forward to midfield. Nonetheless, Uncle Jardine is proud to know that he unearthed one of most disciplined and humble footballers ever to grace domestic football.
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