In every football loving country, the ‘beautiful game’ always allows for legends to be born. Becoming a legend happens not because of one game, one goal or one single moment, but is rather a status afforded to players who have consistently produced the goods.
They are players who have not on the odd occasion been heroes, but who have, due to their sustained excellence, been anointed by the public as legends of the game. What many people fail to recognise is that for every legend that is made, there are legendary stories to tell about the path they travelled to reach the pinnacle of success. Mark Williams is best known for helping Bafana Bafana win the Afcon in 1996, but not many know about his six-year stay in China and how he overcame the challenges that came with playing far away from the comfort zone that is home. In this Gordon’s Gin Tavern of Legends feature, Williams relates a few fascinating experiences from his time there.
The early stages of life in China
I went to China in 1997 and that was largely because I had a name. They wanted players with big names who could improve their soccer. I went to a city called Chongqing, which is in the southwest of China. I signed a three-year contract. When I arrived there, the food was very funny for me. The first time I went to a restaurant, the waiter asked me, “What would you like to have? Chicken and rice?” I said, “Ja, chicken.” The guy brought a live chicken to me, along with a bucket, and chopped the head off the chicken right there. I was like, “What is this, man?” Ha, ha, ha. He then put it in a pot, but when I ate it, it was top-notch! When I travelled to the north of China, like Dunhuang and all those places, they had snakes for meals. They’d take the blood out of the snake, and cook it or fry it like we do sausage. You could have it with the head or without the head, ha, ha, ha. Fortunately I stayed as far away from that as possible. They also ate monkey meat, which the players said boosted their energy levels."
The language factor
"They had a lot of respect for me because I won the Best Foreign Player award for two years there. There were players from all over the world – Germany, England, Russia and Bulgaria – and to win that award twice in a row was fantastic. The money was good as well. I couldn’t understand the language though, but I had a deal with my coach, who was from Korea. I said that I would teach him English and he would teach me Chinese. We agreed on this, but he said that I should mingle with the players and sing karaoke. Chinese people love karaoke! That is how I learnt the language. When we went out after the game to have a couple of drinks, I would sing karaoke. That was something good for me."
Making it against all odds
"The problem with our players is that, when they go overseas, they expect it to be easy in terms of the food and everything else. What they must understand is... why are they there? Are they there for the food or are they there to make a name for themselves? You need to sacrifice. It wasn’t easy… A number of players who were household names here, went there and they couldn’t make it because they wanted pap and chops. Pap and chops is the money! You’re there for the money. Then, afterwards, after you’ve made a name for yourself, you can order anything. They’ll even bring you Chicken Licken to your house. That’s how I became a household name there. It’s different strokes for different folks, I guess. Remember I stayed there for six years. Which player will stay for six years in a place where you don’t understand the language and the culture? Zinedine Zidane couldn’t speak Italian, but he went to Italy. It was about what he wanted to become in his career.
Chinese people, all in all, are just awesome. They are very caring and loving people. During my time there, I stayed in a block of flats like those you see in Hanover Park, but it was seven storeys. The youngsters would stay on the first floor, the U17s on the second and the seniors higher up. I used to tell the coach, “Look, I’m going out tonight.” He’d say he had no problem with it because he knew I’d behave myself. But when some of the Chinese players went out, they wouldn’t be able to report for training the next day because they had drank three cases of beer! The funny thing is that most of the players would drink, eat and sleep right there on the table, and then wake up. During all that time I would be singing karaoke. Those were some of the most enjoyable times during my spell over there."
Finding the legend inside…
"Legends aren’t born, they’re created. It takes patience, persistence and the ability to learn from those around you. These are the qualities that Mark Williams displayed which enabled him to have a lengthy career that began in 1988 and ended in 2003. He waited for his chance to shine and, when it was presented to him, he grabbed it with both hands. The Cape Town-born marksman was dubbed the ‘Nation Builder’ for his exploits with Bafana Bafana, for whom his goals ensured the team’s African Cup of Nations success in 1996. To this day, Williams remains a respected figure and many of his goals are still etched in South African football fans’ memories. He had the right ingredients and, together with some of the most talented players in the country, they blended together to create history.
In much the same way, so too does Gordon’s Gin have the right ingredients. Alexander Gordon searched far and wide to find the exact ingredients - the perfect Botanicals and grains that would become Gordon’s Gin. By learning from those around him, he forged his now-famous distillery. And after persistence and hard work, he eventually achieved legendary status - the Royal Coat of Arms by appointment to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. This is how a legend is created! And now is your chance to become a legend too. Get in the mix on Facebook and Mxit - for further details see below."
Enter the See Yourself as the Next Legend competition and you could discover your inner legend and be rewarded with a R150 000 7-day legendary getaway for 4 and R50,000 in cash!