Last week, we had an eye-opening guest column from the legendary Howard Freese, who poured his heart out about the trappings of professional football. There were a number of lessons to take from that column and we certainly hope that the current crop of professional footballers, as well as aspirant footballers, would have taken note of what the legend had to say.
For the uninitiated, Freese enjoyed a successful stint at the Naturena-based Kaizer Chiefs from 1985 until 1993. Affectionately known as ‘The Rock’, Freese even captained Amakhosi during his time at the club and always produced rock-solid performances at the back whenever called upon. His level of consistency and awareness saw him rated among the best of his time. That consistency and awareness didn’t just end on the field, as he now holds a PhD degree and is now known as Dr Howard Freese. A lesson to take from this legend is that it is possible for a footballer to pursue other professional careers after hanging up their boots or even during their playing days, as AmaZulu FC striker, Lehlohonolo Majoro, has proved as a qualified and practicing Radiographer where he reads X-rays and brain scans, among other things. The 34-year-old striker is one of the current footballers who have planned for life after football and that will go a long way in ensuring that they don’t add to the long and growing queue of struggling former professional footballers once their careers are over. After-football life can be one hell of a lonely journey as even those you deemed friends want nothing to do with you, especially when you have no more income and your fame has dwindled. These are the lessons the current and up-and-coming footballers should take to heart to ensure that they don’t fall into the same traps. If you can’t learn from a legend like Freese, who has played the game and seen it all, then no one can ever teach you anything!
Speaking of teaching and lessons, Monday, 23 November 2020 dealt us a massive blow with the tragic and untimely passing away of Anele Calvin Ngcongca in a car accident. The Gugulethu-born former international defender became another statistic of South African footballers who perished on our roads. A really sad state of affairs! If you think of the number and quality of our footballers who were lost to our roads, it is mind-boggling! Every time a hero has fallen, tragically, we mourn and swear to do better, until the next victim has been added to the list. How long are we going to continue shedding tears from losing our footballers on the roads? How long is this going to happen before we actually do something about it? How many more lives must be lost on our roads before we finally realise the danger we are faced with? Who must perish on our roads before we finally learn from them and do all we can to avoid these unfortunate deaths? No one knows what happened when Lesley Manyathela, Gift Leremi, Richard Henyekane and Mondli Cele, to mention just four, lost control of their cars and died. I’m not talking about well-documented post-mortem reports, but the actual details of what led to the eventual accidents remain a mystery that these guys take with them to their graves. That’s beside the point – these are people’s sons, brothers, husbands and loved ones. The pain they leave behind is unbearable!
Most of these guys are breadwinners in their families, only to leave their children orphaned due to these tragic car accidents. It is more than just a loss of life but financial security and well-being of those who are left behind that adds salt into the wound, as life is never the same without the pride of the family who was taken away from them so prematurely. As a family breadwinner, just imagine your family’s life without your monthly and random financial contributions. Imagine the void your absence will create and how your family will struggle. Surely that’s not what anyone would want to see their families go through. So, why risk it? Let us learn from these unfortunate accidents and do better, so that we don’t continue doing the same thing but expecting different results. Let us also do all we can to encourage safety on our roads and learn from these cases.
When the call came through from a colleague, on Monday morning, I felt numb after hearing what he had to share as he knew the relationship that I had had with Anele. All my colleagues know about the endless phone conversations I would have with Anele whether in the office or even away from work. We would talk about everything, from football to family. He always had time for a chat, which is an oxymoron for a man of a few words. Anele was never talkative; in fact, you’d think he is an introvert, until he gets comfortable around you. That’s when you will see the real Gondwe, Thera, Madiba, Anzo, Taka Sethu! That’s when you’ll realise how jovial, kind-hearted, friendly and humble he really was. He enjoyed doing random video calls without any prior warning. Anele never believed in the courtesy of checking if it was ok to video call, he just called whenever he wanted to and it didn’t matter what time it was. This has been part of his make-up even since his days in Belgium, where he’d call in the middle of the night and stay on the phone for more than an hour, talking non-stop.
I’m reminded of the last video call he made when he told me about his impending move to AmaZulu FC and how excited he was to make the move to Durban. He was indeed looking forward to life at Usuthu as he’d get a chance to team up with long-time friends, Tsepo Masilela and Siphiwe Tshabalala, for the first time at club level. The two former Bafana Bafana teammates, apparently, had nothing but great things to say about the new project that is AmaZulu FC and played a role in swaying him to move to the Coast. He also told me about the conversation and vision of the chairman (Sandile Zungu) and how he couldn’t wait to get involved with the team. To think he passed away even before kicking a ball in an official match for Usuthu is heartbreaking! Goodbye, Thera, and rest easy, brother. We weep for your family!
Hamba kakuhle Dlomo, Madiba, Zondwa, Yem-Yem, Ngqqolomsila!