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Grandpa 5 the ex-goalie

Submitted by on Saturday, 21 February 2009No Comment
Grandpa 5 the ex-goalie

Lucas Radebe looks back on a long and singularly clean-living football career that included a couple of unusual honours.

Napoleon had a brandy named after him; you have had a beer named after you, the Radebeer in Leeds. Tell me about that.

I’m not sure if it is exactly the relationship with alcohol I’m trying to portray, but it is a great honour. I just hope that it doesn’t taste like Tetley Bitter… Hopefully it shows the impact I made; not only in football but out of the game there, which is very satisfying; although ironically I don’t drink.

Apparently the band Kaiser Chiefs named themselves that, because they were all Leeds fans and you played for Kaizer chiefs (with a z) before you went to Leeds. Did you know the guys and how do you like their music, which is inspired by new wave and punk rock?

I didn’t know the guys before, but I got to know them because when they came to ask permission to use the name, they came to the club (Leeds) to ask me personally. It was another great honour. Last year when they came over for that rock festival, I introduced them. Their music is not really my taste, but some of their songs are absolutely brilliant – they can cause a riot hey!

You are one of 11 children; do you keep up with each other?

Yes, because everybody is alive and kicking. In fact I spend more of my time in the township visiting them, than at home.

You slept on the floor of the kitchen in your house – how deprived did you feel growing up?

For us, it was the life we led. We didn’t have much space in the house, so I was comfortable wherever I could put my head down. But it was all we knew. We always had food and we were always busy having fun – so no, I didn’t feel deprived.

The stories about you been involved in stealing cars – how true are they?

It was just growing up. I don’t think my intention was to ‘steal’ cars – it was just being naughty. You know in those times, they used to say, ‘No company cars in the township’. When we saw a company car, we would go and get it; take it for a drive and then park it. And the next day we would drive it again. Maybe we would end up selling a tyre or a battery and that was it (laughs).

To keep you out of the troubles your mother then sent you to Bophuthatswana, what was that like?

What happened was the principle of the local school in Bop had a good relationship with my mother. When he came to fetch my brother for his soccer team my mom said, ‘You know what; you might as well take Lucas as well’. So I went too. But it was tough. I was still young and suddenly from being busy, there was nothing to do. It was in the bundus. It was dry. Not nice.

You started as a goalkeeper there. Why didn’t you stick to that position?

I actually wasn’t a footballer, but I was so bored I went and joined the football team. They said go in goal and I wasn’t bad – I won a few awards. But I didn’t want to stay in goal. I hated that position. Actually it was more after I got kicked in the face and had stitches; and when I got back I thought, ‘No I’m not going in goal again’.

To digress; if we took a club like Kaizer Chiefs, as they are today, and put them into the English Premier League, how would they do?

They would struggle. They would even have a hard time in the Championship, (second-highest division overall in the English football league system after the Premier League), as well. Because it is more physical; you have to be 100% fit and you have to be strong, physically and mentally; and the discipline aspect of it – it’s not only inside the field of play, but outside of the field of play. They would struggle.

Talking about that; when you and Phil Masinga got to Leeds, apparently at your first training session, you threw up?

I know (laughs), I did throw up. I remember. It was hard, hey. We would run up this hill and jog back down; as soon as we got to the bottom we would run up it again. We did this about ten times and then we had to do doggies (intermittent sprints) up the hill. I was like, ‘Oh God, I’ve got no chance…’

What did you think about it all?

I thought seriously, ‘This is the army’. I couldn’t believe that was how they trained – it was so hard. But as long as they saw we were trying it was ok. And I tried hey. I threw up and then the only thing I did was go from training to bed; and go from bed to training. I hated it, because there was nothing else to do.

And by all accounts you didn’t like the weather, the food and the beer; how did you adapt?

Well I don’t drink, so the beer wasn’t a problem. But I wanted to go home. I hadn’t even unpacked; I was living out of packed bags. I often said to Phil (Masinga) ‘I want to go home.’ And I was phoning home all the time. We were staying in these digs, and the phone needed coins and eventually of course I ran out of coins.

So what did you do?

Me and Phil used to be naughty – we would open the phone and take out the coins and use them again – the boys from Soweto always make a plan.

And the actual football?

Well at first I wasn’t playing – Phil was. He was doing well – in one of the FA cup games he scored a hat trick. They called him, ‘Waltzing Masinga’. I was kicking around the reserves, which was tough because they wouldn’t play in a stadium, but in the grounds and it was cold, I was always freezing. Although I was getting into the team slowly; there was also a problem with Howard Wilkinson. I wanted to play, but he seemed to have other plans. He couldn’t be seen to have a lot of black players in one team. So either me, or Phil would play – but we wouldn’t play together. Also Howard wouldn’t play me in the big games like Liverpool, Manchester and Arsenal; he thought they were too big for me.

He played you in the midfield?

Yes and I enjoyed it. But initially I would only play against teams like Crystal Palace and Wimbledon, where I got kicked and punched. It was very tough.

When faced with a one-on-one situation with a player coming at you, what would go through your mind, what would you focus on to stop him?

Well it depends on who it was coming at you. Like if it was Gianfranco Zola that was tough. Or Michael Owen, you knew he was quick and could turn, or if it was Duncan Ferguson, he was bigger and not that mobile. So either I kick him or do everything else I can to stop him. I would kick them, ‘very nicely’; no high foot tackle, but I would make sure they didn’t go past

Leeds is reputedly a very racist city – how did you find things?

I had one incident against Leicester, where someone in the crowd abused me as I was going off. But generally it didn’t bother me. They sometimes would do those monkey chants, but I was so focused on the game it didn’t affect me. But you could see in the crowds there were very few black faces or often, none. And down town in Leeds I was usually the only black guy walking around; although there was a black area called Chapeltown. Everybody advised me not to go there. But finally I said hey, ‘I’m black why should I be worried about going into a black area?’ I then used to go there regularly.

What was the reception like?

I got a good reception, obviously a lot of them didn’t know who I was, but they were still very friendly. I used to go eat there a lot – it was mainly West Indian food, which I loved.

Just catching up on your more recent past – I believe you had a heart problem in December last year – how are you doing now?

Not great. I have a defibrillator in, which keeps me going at the moment. You know I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I was training every day – I felt very fit. Also there is no history of heart problems in my family, I don’t have cholesterol problems and I’ve been so fit all this time. But the doctors think that maybe the stress of my wife passing away could have set it off.

That was terribly sad – I listened to the eulogy you made on the radio and had tears in my eyes. How are your knees and your Achilles, which you had problems with?

No they are fine. I thought my knees would be giving me problems and get me down, but they are fine now. My Achilles I can stretch and run so I’m ok; I played in that Mandela game so I am fine.

What was a typical week in your life as captain of Leeds?

Saturday was usually a match. Then Sunday was family day. Then Monday was training. You’d wake up and it was dark, cold, wet and you were still stiff from Saturday’s game. I would get there about nine and we would train the whole day. We would go until about half eleven and then break for lunch. We had a canteen at the club. But it got dark early, so by four we were finished. Then we’d go home and do something like watch TV. Tuesday was much the same and then Wednesday we would have off. I lived in the same area as guys like Robbie Keane, Mark Viduka, Rio Ferdinand and we would go to someone’s house, or go out for something to eat.

Then Thursday was back training again. Friday prepare for Saturday’s match.

Were you nervous for matches?

I always got nervous before matches, which for me was a good sign. And then I would get even more worried if I didn’t touch the ball in the first few minutes…

Your last days in football; what was it like being 35 and all around you were players who were virtually kids?

I was like a dad to them. They used to tease me all the time. They wanted to know where my Zimmer frame was. They gave me a t-shirt with Grandpa 5, on the back. They did it with respect, but they teased me all the time. When I didn’t train they used to say, “Ah yes, at your age, better you stay indoors…” They’d constantly ask me about things like arthritis.

How did you get on with the other players?

They were great – naughty boys. They used to sneak out and go drinking. You can’t believe how drunk they would get. I never drank when I was growing up so I used to just accompany them. The only time I drank there, was the last night before I was coming home. We had an end of season party and everybody insisted I have a drink. Finally I thought, ‘Why not?’ You know where they found me? At the back of the marquee, fast asleep in a trolley. I was finished.

Your son, Luke is a Manchester United fan – how do you feel about that?

What can you do? Although it only really bothered me when I had to buy him a Manchester souvenir jersey…  He is a complete football nut. He says he is not going to play for South Africa; he is going to play for Brazil. I told him, ‘You aren’t Brazilian, you are South African’ – he said he is going to change that.

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