We love you, chief

By Drum Digital
29 September 2010

QUEUES of fans lined up outside the stadium long before the game was due to kick off in tribute of their hero. And when he finally made his appearance in front of the packed stands the crowd gave him a standing ovation, clapping and cheering until they were hoarse. The man they nicknamed Chief was back – and his fans welcomed him “home” as if he was royalty.

This was the scene recently when Lucas Radebe made an emotional return to Elland Road, home ground of Leeds United, the English club he captained for years. It’s a measure of how much he is still loved in the Yorkshire town that supporters packed the stadium at 11 in the morning, hours ahead of the kick-off against Sheffield United (which Leeds won 1–0) when they heard he was coming.The occasion was the launch of his biography, Lucas: From the Streets of Soweto to Soccer Superstar, and once the applause had died down Rhoo got down to the handnumbing business of signing thousands of copies of the book.

Afterwards Lucas, still clearly emotional from the experience, paid tribute to the enthusiastic crowd. “It is absolutely unbelievable to be back here,” he said. Flanked by his two children, son Lucas Jnr (11) and daughter Owami (6), he kept saying how “at home” he felt. “I always look forward to coming back to Leeds – it is where I belong.”

Penned by Yorkshire writer Richard Coomber, the book tracks Lucas’ incredible journey from a childhood of hardship in Soweto where he was plucked from obscurity to play for Kaizer Chiefs who later sold him to the Premiership club in Yorkshire, England. Once he established himself at Leeds as their key defender in 1994, he made more than 200 appearances over a period of 11 years during which he also played 70 times for South Africa.

He won countless accolades during his career, including the Professional Footballers’ Association merit award earlier this year for “outstanding contribution to professional football for both club and country”, which is testament to the worldwide respect and admiration Lucas commands.

When the normally reserved 41-year-old was asked why he thought it was time to tell his story about life in soccer, he said he wanted to share his experiences with his fans.

“All these years people have been asking me about my career in the English Premiership, why I stayed at Leeds so long and love the place so much,” he said. “People are always interested in life as a professional soccer player – I suppose I just wanted to share my experiences with those who have supported me. I hope young players starting out in the game will get something from the book, to help the learning curve for a new generation of Leeds United players.”

He also has high hopes for the current crop of players of the club that was recently promoted from League One to the Championship League. “Leeds is definitely on the up and it was fantastic to see it get a promotion last season – I did a lot of celebrating back home,” he told fans to wild applause. “But we need to keep moving forward: Leeds belongs in the Premier League.”

Read the full article in DRUM of 10 October 2010

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