2010/11: The Chief – Lucas Radebe. True gent and a Legend.
As part of my work for the Leeds World Cup Bid team, I had the privilege and honour to interview Lucas Radebe at Elland Road on Saturday. The Leeds legend was in England to promote his biography, Lucas: From the Streets of Soweto to Soccer Superstar. The former Leeds United and South African captain had visited local schools as part of his brief trip to this country which also included attending the Championship fixture at Elland Road between Leeds United and their Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United as “Guest of Honour”.
Lucas opened the interview by saying how much he enjoys being in England and how he considers this country and especially Leeds to be his second home. Discussion soon turned to the recent World Cup in South Africa and the opening game between the hosts and Mexico. Lucas recounted how he wouldn’t believe that the World Cup was really happening in South Africa until the kick-off of that game. He was there as he witnessed his countrymen get a draw in the game, but says his over-riding memory is of the crowd and the atmosphere in the build-up to kick-off. He vividly remembers the teams coming out onto the pitch and people around him weeping in joy that this moment had arrived. Lucas added that even recalling those memories now gives him goose-bumps.
Lucas was especially proud on that opening night as the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg was so close to where he was born. The South African considered the hosting of the 2010 tournament as a triumph for the country, and one which signified its arrival to the world as a place that had developed not only on the football stage but politically. It was a victory after the years of Apartheid and was testament to the influence of Nelson Mandela. Lucas believed though that it was also an event that united the continent of Africa and showcased what this part of the world has to offer. He stressed that the legacy for the country goes beyond that of just football and that technology, infrastructure and the nation as a whole has and will continue to benefit.
As part of South Africa’s bid to host the 2010 tournament, Lucas took on the role of an Ambassador. This is a role he is also undertaking for the England 2018 bid. He agreed to take on this position because of the unforgettable 12 years he had in England. In carrying out the duties of an Ambassador, the ex-Leeds United star has had regular contact with various FIFA delegates, and he has pressed the claims of England to host the 2018 competition, by emphasing the quality of the infrastructure, the stadiums, the passion of the fans and the fact that he considers the Premier League the most exciting in the World.
“The Chief” as he is affectionately known by Leeds fans, also extolled the virtues of his adopted City as a great World Cup venue. Lucas recalled how he and Phil Masinga had been warmly greeted at the club and by the citizens of Leeds when they arrived. In talking about his time in Yorkshire, there was a genuine warmth and admiration for the people of Leeds who he described as special and very friendly. Lucas believed that the unique tradition, culture and humour of the Leeds public would be translated to and experienced by visitors who might attend England if the tournament comes here in 2018.
The interview closed with Lucas saying that whilst it was a pity Leeds United were not in the top flight, he believed that they would return to the Premier League in the near future. Of his time at the club, he was honoured that the fans took to him as one of their own and that the camaraderie of the players meant that he felt at home.
The mark of the man was that in me thanking Lucas and saying what a pleasure it had been to interview him, he replied that “…the pleasure was all mine…”. Lucas Radebe, football legend and a gentleman. Premier League players take note….