We’ve been hearing and reading about South African footballers who get relegated back to poverty once the curtain has been pulled on their playing careers. A lot has been said about it but, sadly, not much is changing.
It is very easy for everyone to blame these footballers, but you need to understand the impact the past has on them and what goes on in their lives, when the television cameras are switched off. We’ve seen a number of players, mostly Black and Coloured, struggling and made fun of when the final whistle has blown on their glamorous careers. It pains me to see our former stars going through this, but what saddens me even more is the fact that more and more players are destined for the same fate. We see these players dominating in the field of play but not reaching their full potential because of off-the-field influences. Those who are lucky enough to make it still retire penniless and people wonder why this is happening. How is it possible that a professional footballer whose career lasted for around a decade, with some having played abroad, ends his career with nothing to show for it? How is it possible that they have had no investments, no money in the bank? You start thinking about the number of teams that they played for. You think of the signing-on fees they secured, the monthly salaries and even endorsements.
So many fingers have been pointed at different people and teams for the status quo. However, I feel the deepest-rooted reason for this is our past. This is all the consequences of the apartheid system. Before you get worked up, let me indulge you. Go to the football academies across the country, go to schools’ sports across the country and you will notice that eight out of 10 times, the parents that are there supporting their kids are neither Black nor Coloured. The Black and Coloured parents who are actively involved in their kids’ sports are the few who can afford to send them to the multi-racial schools. Do you know why? It is simply because in those schools, parents’ involvement in their kids’ education and sports is compulsory! The places of employment respect those schools so much that if there’s a parents’ meeting, for example, all the parent needs to do is notify the boss and they will be allowed to either leave early or not come to work at all. Try the same thing with a community school and the rules are different. In fact, the community school will have to have such activities after hours if they’re to have any parents attending.
This plays a huge role in shaping the relationship between the parents and their kids when it comes to their sporting. The kids from a community school are already at a disadvantage because the parent can’t even give feedback on their progress, let alone influence it. The kid gets promoted to the professional team and then the parent can watch either on television or at the stadium, on odd occasions. Do you know the impact the lack of a parent’s involvement in their kid’s career between schooling and playing professional has on their eventual professional career? That same kid becomes a breadwinner after signing a pro contract, all of a sudden, at a young age because the parents are earning peanuts.
Mind you, this same kid has not had a role model that they can look up to. There’s no guidance and, because they earn far more than their parents, they then adopt the different responsibilities. With that said, what are the chances of the same parents who depend on these boys, calling them into order and running the risk of losing their source of income? On the other side of the fence, the parents are well-off and can even afford to buy their son a car before he starts earning a decent salary. That way, he will always be seen as a kid in his family because his family doesn’t depend on him. The parents will always be his role models and very little influence from the streets can change him.
The kid without a role model gets celebrated, to their destruction, by the same people who claim to love them. I remember a conversation I once had with Tebogo Moloi and Doctor Khumalo about the way they could hardly walk on the streets after either playing to a draw or losing a game and how that’s changed these days. They said the supporters would put them in their place if they went out for a drink after a disappointing result. The supporters would demand to know what they were celebrating. Try to do that today and, even before the player himself says anything, you’ll have the same community up in arms because these players are so idolised and, unwittingly, led astray.
Young as they are, most of the time, these players find themselves walking on the path that they’ve never seen anyone walk on. They’re doing things they’ve never seen anyone in their families do and they carry the responsibilities that have not been carried by anyone before. On top of that, there’s the professional football pressure and society’s expectations and pressures. Sometimes they carry extended family and even many community members on their shoulders because they know what it is like to have nothing. So, before you judge these guys, please spare a thought for their struggles and what ultimately leads to their destruction.