IOL soccer writer Njabulo Ngidi.

‘He thinks that he is Superman and will super fly over everyone,” an angry Jomo Sono once said, lashing out at Thato Lingwati who had cost Jomo Cosmos in a 2-0 loss to Mamelodi Sundowns three years ago.

The Black Prince didn’t mince his words, describing the Cosmos captain as an “amateur defender who dives all over the show” and went on to say that he would ask his parents to speak to him because he was done.

“I’m not happy with Thato, I mean you can’t be doing silly things, under-7 things, this is a professional game,” Sono continued.

Lingwati laughed when I reminded him of those words on Sunday after Ezenkosi played to a 2-2 draw with Black Leopards at Vosloorus Stadium. It was good to see him laugh and smile because the conversation was quite sombre. 

At one point he was teary-eyed talking about the loss he suffered just two days before the match.

The 25-year-old woke up to the sad news of the passing away of his daughter Amogelang on Friday morning. 

But he still wanted to be there for his team two days later in their first match of the promotion play-offs against Lidoda Duvha with a place in the Premier Division up for grabs. 

Not only did Lingwati have a good game, he also scored in the last minute of optional time to rescue Ezenkosi from the jaws of defeat.

“It took a lot for me to come and play,” Lingwati said. “That goal was a blessing for me. It helped the team get a point and it meant a lot for me emotionally because of what I am going through. I was doing it for her.

"I came here because I had to be professional. The team needed me. I am a professional employed by Jomo. He needed me. I had to come and play.”

On Sunday, Lingwati genuinely became Superman with his selfless act and how he rescued his team. Lingwati is my hero. 

Thato Lingwati has had been going through a lot but has managed to do it all with such grace. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

It must have taken a lot for a young parent to deal with the loss of his child, to still be able to function and do your job on top of it all is beyond remarkable.

I have had my fair share of losses and I have never coped with them the way Lingwati did. 

Talking about some of those losses is hard and makes me emotional even though years have gone by. He was able to talk about his loss two days later with such composure and grace. I was touched and he won my respect.

Lingwati showed a vulnerable side of himself during that interview, something he can’t do on the field as any sign of weaknesses is costly as a centre-back. 

The pitch is the only place that players should never allow themselves to be vulnerable. 

A lot of them are going through a lot but they don’t talk about it because of the machismo of sport. A week before speaking to Watling I read an interview with Bojan KrKic in The Guardian talking about his anxiety attacks.

“I didn’t go to the (2008) European Championship because of anxiety issues but we said I was going on holiday. 

“I was called up for Spain against France, my international debut, and it was said that I had gastroenteritis when I actually had an anxiety attack. But no one wants to talk about that. Football’s not interested,” Bojan said.

Football’s not interested because we view footballers as machines and robots instead of humans. 

We hardly consider the person in how we judge them and the insults that are hurled at them. Their crime? The sums of money they get paid for having fun for a living. 

But the “fun” they have comes at a cost, emotionally and physically with the sacrifices that they make and how much time they spend away from their families.

The football culture is so toxically masculine that opening up about your anxieties and emotional struggles is ridiculed and seen as a sign of weakness instead of it being applauded for the brave decision that it is. 

It’s a terrible culture that needs to change.

Football is an escape for a lot of people, giving us heroes who we worship while we deal with whatever we are going through in our lives. 

But who is there for the “hero” when they are going through stuff too? As fans, we should be there for them just like they are consistently there for us, lifting us from our misery and troubles with their talent.

Saturday Star

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