Amongst the 80 000 fans that flooded into the FNB Stadium to watch another memorable Soweto Derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates earlier this month, there was one boy whose heart told the full story of the power of 90 minutes of one of world football’s biggest matches to change lives.
Atlehang Gocina had recently undergone heart surgery at the Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital, and his dream was to attend a Soweto Derby. Vodacom and Reach for a Dream teamed up to make that dream come true as Atlehang was selected as one of 22 other children to serve as mascots for both teams in this epic match.
Atlehang was flown to Johannesburg and spent the night at a Sandton Hotel, which was the first time in his young life that he had flown in an aeroplane and stayed in a hotel.
With the cheers of South African football’s most passionate fans reverberating around the FNB Stadium, Atlehang joined the other children as they held hands and walked out the tunnel onto the field, and into the arena of one of the most famous derbies in football.
Atlehang, dressed in his beloved Orlando Pirates kit, was led onto the field by Orlando Pirates defender Innocent Maela. But walking right in front of him was his ultimate Pirates hero, Thembinkosi Lorch.
During the match, Atlehang watched all of the action with the other children from a suite which was provided by Vodacom.
Despite Orlando Pirates’ 1-0 loss to Kaizer Chiefs, this didn’t deter Atlehang as he was taken onto the field where Pirates star Vincent Pule hugged him and asked him to join him in crossing his arms in the famous Pirates tradition, and in respect for the battle, Atlehang himself had overcome with his heart condition.
He left the field alongside his heroes, walking up the tunnel and into the Orlando Pirates dressing room where he was handed a signed Orlando Pirates jersey and other club memorabilia.
And as he left the changeroom and then later the FNB Stadium, waiting outside was Thembinkosi Lorch who embraced Atlehang and welcomed him as a fellow Buccaneer.
A typical football match lasts 90 minutes.
During heart surgery for a boy such as Atlehang, his heart can be stopped for as long as 90 minutes.
But on that Soweto Derby Day, at the FNB Stadium, Atlehang’s heart was beating like never before.
Why don’t you send a heartfelt message to Atlehang and his hero?