Two of the best players to ever walk the football fields of South Africa, Tsholofelo Teko Modise and Siyabonga Bhele Nomvethe, decided to hang up their boots from professional football last week.
After a glittering service to the Beautiful Game, wonderful memories at club and national team level, representing the country with pride and remaining true gentlemen and professionals, these two legends have decided to call it a day. While it is good to see them move on to the next chapter of their respective careers and the time to celebrate them, it is with a lump on a throat that we have to accept that South African football will be minus two of its best ever servants!
We are talking about two of the best football role models who are an epitome of what this game can do to change one’s life. An epitome of what dedication, discipline, hard work, determination and focus can do if you don’t only rely on your talent. These two legends of the game bow out with their pride still intact as they’ve not embarrassed themselves, their families and the Beautiful Game that has done so much for them. They leave a huge void because there aren’t many left that are cut from the same cloth as them. Their absence will be solely felt but, true to nature, they were never going to remain on the field forever. The two come from humble beginnings and went on to achieve what some of the more talented players have not even come close to achieving. They’ve experienced the rags-to-riches story through and through, proving that impossible is nothing.
From their tough upbringing they are now able to provide a better life for their families because they grabbed the opportunities that came their way with both hands. Nothing was given on the silver platter to both of them and that Teko, a Soweto-born midfielder, had to go to Limpopo and play for Ria Stars in surely unfamiliar territory in order to get the much-needed break is further proof that he was willing to give anything to make his dream a reality, which is the difference between him and some of his peers. Both Bhele and Teko were never consumed by the fame and fortune that comes with playing professional football. As if that was not enough, they also maintained a humble and polite nature, which is very difficult to do for anyone from a similar background after they’ve achieved even a quarter of what these two have amassed over the years.
One hopes that the current generation and generations to come will take a leaf out of these two legends’ book of life and careers. These are two of our professional footballers you seldom find making the front pages of newspapers, as they knew that their section in any newspaper was the back pages. They respected themselves, the game, their respective teams, families, the supporters and everyone associated with the game of football and remained true professionals and gentlemen on and off the field. You need to look no further than their disciplinary records on the field to see how professional they were, despite playing in highly competitive leagues and positions. To have lasted so long and remained relevant until their last kicks on the field is something the legends are made of.
In an era where young kids seldom name themselves after their local heroes, as the names of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and many other international superstars have become an in-thing even in the dusty streets of our rural areas, Bhele and the General are two of the few from the current generation that still hold a place in the nickname front of today’s kids. Such has been their impact that they’ve made people happy, the opposition cry and created wonderful memories for their respective teams. Our football will definitely be poorer without them, but we hope the good example they’ve set over the years will not be in vain. The likes of Jabu Maluleke, Nathan Paulse, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Rooi Mahamutsa, captain fantastic Hlompho Kekana, Bevan Fransman, Thabiso Semenya, Robyn Johannes, Morgan Gould and many other seasoned campaigners will have to continue flying the flag of the over 30s gang and continue to show the younger generation how it is done.
Indeed, South African football will miss these two legends who were always only a phone call away despite their hectic schedules. One of the most interesting things about Nomvethe was his uncompromising nature. No one could get through to Bhele on match day and even his roommates would tell you the last thing they needed was to upset Bhele by interrupting his beauty sleep, which is what he spent most of his time doing during camp. His cell phone would be off most of the time and that spoke to the attention and focus he gave to his craft. I will also never forget the one time when he was still in Italy and one of my colleagues, whose name spelled backwards is Agnul Mada, managed to get his cell number and dialled him for an interview request. With his deep Zulu accent, Bhele took the call and demanded to know where the journalist got his number from, which came as a big shock to my colleague who was still expecting to exchange pleasantries with this legend. “Uyithatha phi le (Where did you get this) number?” was Bhele’s question that almost paralysed the shocked scribe. After the journo’s dilly-dallying, Bhele simply told him, “Ok, you can call me after two hours and see if uzong’thola na (you’’ get hold of me).” To this day, that’s one of the funniest anecdotes that we still laugh about!
We salute the two gentlemen of the Beautiful Game and wish that their new adventures will be as fulfilling to them as their careers have been. We thank them for being great role models and serving the Game with nothing but pride. Your professionalism and great attitude haven’t gone unnoticed. We are poorer without you, lads, but we understand that you had to go. When the curtain falls, it signals the end, but it could also mean a new beginning. Salute!!!