I am moved by moments. I am inspired by instances in time. I am a slave to the emotions triggered by life’s idiosyncratic snapshots.
This column has, more often than not, been suffused with incidents of history and memory. As they say, live long enough and that’s all you have: memories.
But, as a former footballer and now a writer, and coming from an era where the black part of the sport was wilfully ignored and gleefully dismissed, I’ve always felt the need to cast my mind down the years to reel in such memories as a reminder that the football played then, and the players who sacrificed so much, should never be forgotten.
In a period when the sport meant so much to the populace, in a time when there wasn’t all that much to aspire to, they should be remembered and cherished.
I am, as I say, moved by moments. And the moment that moved this latest reflection was when AmaZulu’s Siyabonga Nomvethe last month became the PSL’s leading all-time goal scorer with 111 goals.
I was expecting to see Nomvethe, who will be 40 on Saturday, turn out for AmaZulu at Athlone Stadium at the weekend, but the Durban side’s coach Cavin Johnson admitted afterwards that he had to manage the veteran’s playing time carefully.
While the evergreen forward still has a role to play for AmaZulu, Johnson said he had to look after the player’s “mind and body”.
But last month when Nomvethe wrote himself into the record books, it was as if a cabinet was flung open in my head as I kept flipping through the folders in my mind.
English writer Aldous Huxley penned the words that “every man’s memory is his private literature”.
It’s how we hold on to things; it’s the sum total of our existence; it’s the best of times and the worst of times; it’s how we learn, so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past; it’s how we plot new paths in our lives; it serves as the character-driven movie that defines who we are and what we will become; and, most importantly, it’s in the rewinding of it all that we understand, even if only minutely, the fundamental joy of the human condition.
Because, at the end of a football career, it’s not so much about money and trophies and success and ego, it’s about the many people whose lives have reverberated against yours.
Football is about the many friendships made – indeed, even life-long friendships, some of it.
The camaraderie, spirit and close-knit bond; it’s about a bunch of guys coming together for the same cause, and running through brick walls to support each other.
During this time there will be teammates and opponents, there will be fierce battles and there will be heroes and villains, and winners and losers.
But, when all is done and dusted, there will still only be footballers, united in their love and passion for the sport.
Having played in the Federation Professional League (FPL) in the days of segregated football, and subsequently in the unified football body, there are just so many situations, incidents and memories to recall – and, most certainly, the footballers I have played with and against over the years: some were brilliant, some quirky, others egomaniacal; there was the inspirational and the comedic, and even the unusual and the eccentric.
After much success in the FPL in the 1980s, Santos took their place in the post-unity era in the 1991, but were unfortunately relegated in 1993.
And it was during that initial period, around 1994, in the then-Second Division, that I first came up against two teenagers who would go on to blaze a trail in South Africa and Europe – Nomvethe and the inimitable Sibusiso Zuma, who were playing for Durban-based African Wanderers at the time: such are the memories that furnish the lounge in my head.
So, when someone like Nomvethe is still active today, still as influential as ever, it provides an opportunity, a moment, that acts as a souvenir of my past.
Like Nomvethe, there are so many other footballers I remember, some with fondness, some with respect, and some with awe at having been in the presence of something special.
They’ll all stay with me, always, as my “private literature”.
In the closing line from that wonderful coming-of-age movie Stand by Me, the narrator says: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Does anyone?”
A football career is much the same, in that it captures the essence of the friendships we make, and the exploits and adventures that characterise the journey.
And, when it all ends, looking back is a nostalgic trip which encapsulates the incandescence of experiences that will remain with you until the darkness takes over.