As goes the cliché, all good things must come to an end…
I seldom make an appearance on this platform, but editor Vuyani Joni and the staff that produces this publication were kind enough to let me have this one because, well, this is my last interaction with you in Soccer Laduma... At least for now.
Check out some pictures of Joe's journey with Soccer Laduma in the gallery above
After spending the best part of the last decade with Soccer Laduma, firstly in Cape Town and then in Johannesburg, this month will be the end of my time as part of the Siya crew. This is the last edition of Soccer Laduma that I will work on the Siyagobhoza and a few days ago I submitted my final article for the Soccer Laduma website – it still doesn’t quite feel real.
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After years of having the Premier Soccer League, Bafana Bafana and Banyana Banyana as part of my everyday existence, the lifeblood of my week, the time has come for me to return to my first love, English football, and to the league that I grew up watching as a kid.
The memories that I leave this incredible country with are endless… I found love here, I grew up here, I became a better human being and a better journalist here, and for that, I will remain eternally grateful and forever indebted.
I’ll never forget walking out at my first Soweto Derby in 2012, and thinking to myself, ‘This is what it’s all about’, as FNB Stadium – packed to the rafters – shook with anticipation before Benni McCarthy brought down the house. Travelling to Botswana with Kaizer Chiefs, the Democratic Republic of Congo with SuperSport United, and getting thrown off a horse in Cairo before the 2013 CAF Champions League final are all football memories that will stay with me forever, but they won’t be the only ones.
Thabo Matlaba’s screamer for Bafana at Cape Town Stadium in 2013, Thembi Kgatlana’s history maker for Banyana at the 2019 World Cup in France, and the countless cup finals are all a part of my life story now. I count myself so lucky to be able to say, ‘I was there!’
To this day, I get emotional when I hear Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika… It gave me goosebumps on June 11th, 2010, and it still gives me goosebumps today. That will never change. I won’t lie, when I said goodbye to my parents and brother to get on a plane to Mzansi in 2011, I didn’t know I was saying goodbye for like a third of my lifetime. But Africa gets into you – there’s something magical about this continent and the people here.
When the paper’s founder, Peter du Toit, took a chance on me back then, he saw something in me that I possibly didn’t even see myself. He always told me that you guys – the readers – were my boss, and that, ultimately, I worked for you. I hope that over the last nine years I’ve been able to live up to that mantra.
Whether it’s been my breaking news, my stats, my players abroad updates or just a tweet here or there that you liked, I hope I’ve had a positive impact on the football industry in this country by way of repayment for the love I’ve been shown.
In February, I was lucky enough to take my parents to the Soweto Derby at Soccer City (not knowing at the time that it would be my last before I left), and I’ll never forget my old man’s reaction... He’s who brought me into football, he’s who developed my love for it, so to be able to get him and my mom to THAT game was priceless. They were blown away.
It’s still surreal to me that, after growing up watching Lucas Radebe in my first ever live game, ‘Rhoo’ has sent me Happy Birthday messages now. And to think that Benni is now a guy I can call up and spend 45 minutes on the phone with… Crazy!
The way I was welcomed in South Africa is something that I will never be able to wrap my head around – I love this place with all my heart. I have to give a massive thank you to everybody who has played a role in my story so far – whether it be the players, the coaches, the agents and officials, my colleagues, and, of course, all the fans that I’ve interacted with over the years. Walking away from all of this was not an easy thing to do, trust me.
It’s not been all fun and games, mind you… I’ve had my scrapes in the past, but that’s what happens when you’re trying to get news that some people don’t want you to know about. But my reputation is all I have, and I like to think that – even after the arguments – I leave South Africa with a pretty good one.
And when I’m freezing in a football stadium in the north of England wrapped up in 15 layers of clothing, I’ll think back to watching Mamelodi Sundowns in the glaring Tshwane sun, those lovely summer evenings at Bidvest Stadium, and I’ll smile to myself and think of all that I’ve seen and done in one of the most remarkable countries that you could ever wish to live in.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a goodbye, but a farewell, because South Africa has imprinted itself on my heart and soul, and there’s absolutely no possibility that I won’t be back again.
Look, I’ve landed myself a dream job back home in England, a job that I would never have forgiven myself for had I turned it down, but that doesn’t mean that my story here is over…
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As long as I live, I’ll be screaming at my TV whenever a South African national team plays, and you best believe that I haven’t watched Bafana and Banyana play live for the last time either – hopefully there’s a World Cup game or two for me to go to!
Ngiyabonga, enkosi, ndo livhuwa, ke a leboga, ndza nkhensa, ke a leboha haholo, dankie. Thank you.