Hungry to play ball…

Former Bafana Bafana and Leeds United captain Lucas Radebe with some young fans.

Pupils from Lower Crossroads’ Vuyiseka Secondary School, Phakama and Vukani primary schools could hardly believe their luck when former Bafana Bafana captain Lucas Radebe dropped in to officiate during a mini-soccer match, on Thursday August 11. It was a warm day and the field next to the school was packed with starry-eyed and excited pupils.

All the children tried to get as close to the former Kaizer Chiefs and Leeds United defender as possible. The parents watched with keen interest as their children rubbed shoulders with their hero for the first time. That excitement was even more visible in Vuyiseka pupil Wonga Mfafela’s eyes. The Grade 11 pupil, who also captains the school’s first team, said seeing Radebe, and listening to him talk, for the first time motivated him to take his football seriously. He said he just played football for fun as he never really thought of making something out of it. That, however, changed as soon as he listened to his hero speak, and now his mission is take the sport seriously and try go all the way to the top.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Lucas. I thought I was dreaming because I only used to watch him on TV. Having him talking to us also encouraged us to take part in the sport. Football at our school, for instance, was not active this year but it looks like that is going to change. Many people have come here and now they know soccer can take you far and Lucas is a living example,” he said.

“Now we know that he didn’t just become famous, he started where we are, at the bottom, and worked his way to the top. So each one of us wants to be like him and, to get there, we need to work hard,” he said.

His teacher Bulelani Hlakula agreed, saying the event was more than just handing kit over, but also about showing the children the benefits of taking sport seriously. He said the children left the venue more informed in terms of what sport in general, and football in particular, can do for a person.

“For our school, events like these are rare, they happen in faraway places and our pupils are missing out on opportunities to learn. It is, in fact, our school’s first sport day this year. The pupils are excited and we want to make full use of it. It helps grow the children’s dreams,” he said.

“Interacting with their role models is important for the pupils because they get motivated, knowing that they, too, can do it,” he said.

Hlakula said it was not only the football-playing pupils who benefitted from the event but also the rest of the school. This, he said, was because the parents who attended promised to encourage their children to give their best in everything they do because talent alone is not enough to take them to the top.

“Our children should be proud of themselves too because they will go down in history as the generation that got kit from Lucas Radebe. It also gave us, as teachers, something to think about. We didn’t play much soccer this year but, looking at the interest shown today, I am sure they will be back up and running again soon,” he said.

His colleague Simnikiwe Ngoyi agreed, saying the event was a big thing to the school as it opened the pupils’ eyes.

“Just having Lucas here was enough to make the children start dreaming big. Remember we are talking about people who have never seen him with the naked eye before, which means his success, to them, was something that was somewhere out there. That has changed because they have realised he is, after all, a human being like them,” said Ngoyi.