Siya Kolisi meets 15-year-old Lebo Mogoma. Photo: @MyPlayersRugby on twitter
Siya Kolisi meets 15-year-old Lebo Mogoma. Photo: @MyPlayersRugby on twitter

People can be uplifted by their sport heroes

By Mark Keohane Time of article published Nov 22, 2019

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CAPE TOWN – Sport gives hope. Sporting achievements of individuals or teams inspire. Sport is a unifier and so are sports people. Equally, one act of selfishness from a sporting hero, in relation to fan and supporter engagement, can be destructive. It can be an emotional killer.

I was a kid, on one of my first trips to Newlands Cricket Ground. Having been schooled in Kuilsriver, I’d never seen a field the size of Newlands. I remember the smell of the freshly mowed outfield at 8am on the first morning of the New Year’s annual match between Western Province and (the then) Transvaal.

Garth le Roux had just returned from the World Series. He was the player I had come to see bowl and also the player I most wanted to meet. He didn’t disappoint. He made time to say hello between his warm-up deliveries, asked me my name and voluntarily signed my bat. I was in young boy heaven.

Half an hour later I plucked up the courage to approach another player. I was eight years old and finally I felt brave enough to ask for his signature. He abruptly said “No” and carried on walking. I was crushed.

Years later, in my teens, I rushed on to the Newlands rugby ground to get to Western Province flyhalf Robbie Blair and congratulate him on beating (the then) Natal in the Currie Cup final, but more to high five him on playing his 75th match for Western Province, which back then was the ultimate milestone for a player. The reward was two season tickets for life for the player.

Blair was in his final year of club rugby. He was a late replacement among the reserves. Goggie van Heerden knew of the significance of the 75th match and “limped off” with two minutes to play. On came Blair, never touched the ball, but got the 75th appearance.

I was thrilled for him. He’d been my rugby hero throughout my youth. He had kicked WP to victory against the All Blacks. Where Blair went, I followed in terms of support.

Thousands of Springbok rugby fans line the streets of Ravensmead celebrating as the Springboks arrive on the Springbok Victory tour bus. Photo: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

My mother had written to him to let him know just what it meant to me that he got that 75th appearance. A few weeks later a parcel arrived. It was Blair’s match-day socks from the final and with it was the most amazing letter of thanks.

A couple of years ago I was engaging with Blair’s son, Robbie junior, in a professional capacity. I told him the story of his dad and what an inspiration he had been to me. He then told his dad and I got an email from Blair senior. He thanked me again and we arranged to meet for a few drinks. The night proved as memorable and as inspiring as the day those socks arrived.

Garth le Roux and Robbie Blair’s gestures towards me may have seemed small to them but they were monstrous to me, in my love for sport and my belief in sport and those who make a career out of sport. The two were so loyal to their fan base, starting with an 8 and 15-year-old me respectively, and it doesn’t matter how old we all are now, the kid in me remembers the world-class sportsman and human being in them.

Siya Kolisi and Cheslin Kolbe’s gesture in acknowledging 15-year-old Lebo Mogoma for his support of the Springboks this week took me right back to the potency of a sporting hero who shows such kindness and generosity.

Lebo’s emotional and tearful expression of joy and thanks after Kolisi signed his boots during the Springboks’ Champions Tour was a video clip that went viral.

Earlier this week, at the Players’ Awards ceremony, Kolisi invited Lebo as his guest. More than that, he arranged for Lebo to interact, in a video call, with his hero, the France-based Cheslin Kolbe, who asked Lebo to received his (Kolbe’s) award on his behalf. Wow! It was goose-bump time.

Thank you Siya and Cheslin for giving a young man such hope and such joy.

Captain Siya Kolisi reacts as winger Cheslin Kolbe holds the Webb Ellis trophy as the bus of the South African Springbok rugby team tours Soweto. Photo: AP Photo/Jerome Delay

Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributor to sport for Independent Media

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