The Nat King Cole of Bellair

2012-10-20 00:00

HE is proud of where he comes from, what he represents and what he has achieved in a life devoted to football.

Clive Barker never wandered far from where he grew up in Bellair, which he maintains is the best area around Durban. Currently living in Glenwood and, having travelled to many soccer spots around the world, there is no place like home for him.

He’s a soccer coaching maestro and, even while chatting to The Witness, many people walked by greeting him, the most poignant being an elderly African man who half bowed, raised his right hand and said, “Bwana” as he walked past.

We all remember Barker’s airplane jig when Bafana scored their second goal against Brazil all those years ago, but away from the football fields and the touchlines, Barker is a man who enjoys nature and hides what could have been a possible career on stage.

“Music. I love it. It does so much for me and there is nothing better than putting the feet up and listening to some favourite tunes. When I was a youngster, singing was one of my passions. My mother ran a dance school and danced for the king and queen when they visited in 1947. The school had a concert every year and yours truly started everything by bursting forth and singing There’s no business like show business. I quite enjoyed it and in later years, when I discovered the great songUnforgettable, I reckoned I was the Nat King Cole of Bellair.”

Barker also has a 10-acre smallholding at the Oaks, in Richmond, where he gets away from it all at a place he calls “the most gorgeous place in the world”.

It refreshes his soul and “I live another week whenever I go there. I have a guy called Ndoto who looks after it for me and, although he cannot read and write, he knows more about the world than I ever will. He knows the seasons, the winds, the clouds, the rain — all the ways of the earth and what lives on it”.

For 44 years, Yvonne has been next to him and, with a romantic sparkle in his eye, Barker says: “It’s been a long 44 years for her, but way too short for me.”

It hasn’t always been easy, as there was a time, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, for two periods of three months, where he was a taxi driver in Durban, trying to make ends meet.

“It was a tough time and what I earned literally put bread and butter on the table. I used to save my tips for birthdays and special family times and my call sign was I for Ivan. I took people to the airport, the Playhouse, bioscope and of course, I knew where all the shebeens were.”

While he loves music and musicals, he has tried to play the banjo, but is quickly asked to stop by those within earshot. “Music is a great switch-off and allows me to dream. I doubt I would have ever set the stage alight, but there’s no harm wondering.”

At the movies, his all time favourite actress is Meryl Streep, although “I also love Barbra Streisand because she has a big nose like me”. For the men, Liam Neeson and Robert de Niro do the trick and choice of movie is one that is down to earth and tells a story. No aliens or earth invaders are welcome.

By his own admission, Barker is hopeless with his hands and at the end of the day, enjoys relaxing with a glass of white wine and chatting — talking rubbish really. “I don’t read books much, preferring magazines and newspapers and I also love horses. I’ve owned a few nags in my time, but I follow horseracing keenly, although I do not gamble heavily. If I had another calling in life, I would be a racehorse trainer.”

Italian food whets the appetite best and Barker even russles up his own dish he calls “the best pastes in Durban”. It’s a dish with crispy bacon, chilli, Neopolitan sauce and grated cheese. Omelettes are also considered a speciality while surprisingly, he considers himself useless when it comes to a braai.

But it’s soccer that burns deep in his soul and what has given him a life beyond measure. Yet, despite all his travels, memories and moments, his passion for Durban is unwavering and stands tall, burning like a bright light.

We met at Moses Mabhida stadium to chat and, when asked if he would ever move overseas or had been offered coaching positions beyond our borders, he said: “I was approached, but I love South Africa too much. These days, with the money offered, I may think differently, but the fact is, I love my home.”

Pointing to the skycar, he reaffirmed what he had said: “Just go up there and see the view. Go and look out over the best place in the world. Nothing beats looking at Durban.”

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