Why do we forget our heroes?

2012-03-17 10:08

The death of Thabang Lebese reminds us about how cruel fame can be. It also reminds us about the not-so-beautiful side of our beautiful game.

One watches helplessly when these boys go down into a pit after they have mesmerised millions with their skill.

The world has just witnessed the death of a famous and talented musician, Whitney Houston. Whatever the cause of her death, it is consoling to know there is an estate to talk about.

What estate is there to talk about when it comes to our own soccer heroes?

I was introduced to Lebese less than two years ago by a concerned friend.

She asked me to help him sort out his post-soccer life. He was in his early 40s. He had nothing to show for his fame and prowess.

The first time I met with him was at a restaurant.

The first shock I had to deal with was the way he looked compared to when I saw him as a footballer on TV and in the newspapers.

What I heard from him for the next three hours left me sick. He was one of those honest and open guys.

He told me how he messed up his life and how he wanted to help other soccer players not to go this way. He told me how dizzy the money he received made him feel. He felt he was on top of the world.

Every time he watched himself on TV he felt the world was at his feet. As long as money flowed, girls and friends were galore! His view of life was short term. He did not think about his post soccer life.

My mind started racing and counting our soccer heroes who were in the same situation.

This topic has been discussed ad nauseum by the soccer fraternity and by the soccer-loving community and has always centred on blaming the bosses and everybody else.

What Lebese made clear to me was that yes, the soccer bosses must carry some blame. However, the biggest blame must be carried by the player himself.

He was right. I asked him how he thought the players could be assisted. His answer was simple – catch them before they get famous and have lots of money.

He told me that once the money started flowing, these boys listened to nobody.

Many come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Depending on the club, some earn more money than all their family and relatives combined.

The player is instantly catapulted to the status of decision maker by the family because of his financial muscle.

The family gives the boy authority he is not prepared for. The family also forgets the boy is still a child. He has to contend with fame and authority he is not mature enough for. He ultimately gets overwhelmed and blunders.

There is nobody to guide him about issues of life because he has been given the impression that this is it. He has arrived. Nobody can tell him anything.

Lebese told me things were so bad he had to swallow his pride and go back home to Orlando, Soweto.

He had to live with his unemployed mother, his grandmother who was on pension, his employed brother and his sister who was still at school.

Thank you family! But did they have a choice?

When the world turns its back on you because you are no longer the winner, the family will accept you back. I hope the soccer boys remember that.

The most heartbreaking for me was when I received a call from Lebese to say he had no money to pay for repairs to his BMW.

He needed R800 but had only R300.

He asked for my help. This for me was just too painful to handle.

I hope this becomes a lesson to all our soccer players. Theirs is a very short career. While many of us have more than 40 years to accumulate our pensions, they have a maximum of 15 years, depending when the career was started.

Lebese died very young. The experience he gained within the soccer fraternity could have benefited upcoming players. It left with him. He had no opportunity to use it to the benefit of the soccer fraternity.

His voice mail message was: “Hi, this is Thabang Lebese. Please stay away from drugs and use condoms.

Aids kills.” While he died a pauper, he nevertheless died a wise man. I liked his sense of humour.

I will always cherish the little time I spent with him. He has very poignantly epitomised many of our fallen soccer heroes in this country. For my part I will, to the best of my ability, help soccer players as a memory to Thabang Lebese.

» Minah Sindane-Bloem is a life coach and communication specialist

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