IN THE 1960s a talented teenager took the local soccer scene in the Vaal Triangle’s Sedibeng District by storm when he played for his father’s team.
The lad in question was none other than former Kaizer Chiefs and Vaal Professionals’ central defender, Simon “Bull” Lehoko.
Lehoko’s father Shadrack was what people in the township commonly referred to as “preza” (president or club owner).
Lehoko’s debut at Real X20 launched him on a successful career path, one which may not have materialised if his father had not owned a soccer club.
“I had strong admiration for my father because he made it possible for me to play soccer,” Lehoko says.
To strangers, Lehoko was a relatively unknown youngster until his father roped him into his team Real X20 in Sharpeville.
His meteoric rise under the watchful eye of his parent soon attracted interest from local clubs. He was only 16 years old when he showed maturity in the field, to his father’s delight.
Lehoko senior did not hesitate to throw his nimble-footed son in the deep end.
And the inimitable, likeable defender did not disappoint.
He started playing soccer in the lower divisions of his family club, which was one of the top amateur clubs in the Vaal.
Lehoko played only one position for his entire career.
“I did not play another position in my life except central defender,” said Lehoko.
His brother Joseph nicknamed him “Bull” because of his tough defensive style.
He rose through the ranks and when he turned 16, his prowess developed in the colours of Real X20. Lehoko was among Real X20 players who featured prominently in the Sharpeville Invitation X1.
“When big teams from Johannesburg, including Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows, were invited to play against the invitation side, I was a regular in the pick team,” said Lehoko.
He said the invitation side existed for many years until officials decided to rename it Vaal Professionals in the 1970s. It was affiliated to the now- defunct National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), a former professional wing of the SA National Football Association (SANFA).
“I was fortunate to be among the first players who made their professional debut at Vaal Professionals, which was the only professional team in the Vaal,” said Lehoko.
Like many sports stars his age, he felt the effect of forced removals when his family was uprooted from what was called Top Location in Vereeniging and relocated to Evaton.
Born in Vereeniging in 1951, Lehoko always had a hunger to learn. “I wanted something to fall back on when my soccer career come to the end.”
After attending school at Lekoa Shandu, he enrolled for a teacher’s diploma at Wilberforce Training College in Evaton where he met former Chiefs’ midfield star, the late Ariel “Pro” Khongoane.
“Ariel and I qualified as teachers at the same college.”
At Vaal Professionals, Lehoko’s impeccable performance caught the eye of the Phefeni Glamour Boys who started negotiations for his services.
Once he’d graduated as a teacher, Lehoko moved from Sharpeville to Soweto where he stayed in Meadowlands Zone 5 and taught in Dobsonville.
At Chiefs, Lehoko grew in stature and form and earned the respect of his fellow teammates and the hard-to-please Amakhosi supporters.
“There was everything to play for at Chiefs and I enjoyed every moment, because everything at Chiefs was done professionally.
‘‘It was great to play alongside Johannes ‘Ryder’ Mofokeng, Nick ‘Yster’ Sikwane, Ariel ‘Pro’ Khongoane, Pule ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe, Ebison ‘Sugar’ Muguyo, Nelson ‘Teenage’ Dladla and Shadrack ‘Skheshekheshe’ Mkhonza [now Banyana Banyana coach].”
When more young players joined Chiefs, Lehoko and other senior players welcomed them with open arms. “Marks ‘Go-Man-Go’ Maponyane and Zebulon ‘Sputla’ Nhlapo were some of the young generation of players who found us at Chiefs.”
Lehoko described his eight years stay at Chiefs as successful, with never a dull moment.
“We enjoyed each other’s company at Chiefs. Every day… was exciting. We won many trophies and I enjoyed it all tremendously.”
A nagging injury ended Lehoko’s ambitions to continue playing at Chiefs.
When the big split took place in 1985, Lehoko had already retired because of his injury.
There were two professional leagues, NPSL and NSL. Vaal Professionals stayed with the NPSL and Lehoko rejoined them and after three years, joined NSL’s Second Division OK League.
Professionals took to the Second Division like a house on fire, and it was no surprise when they were promoted to the elite NSL,” said Lehoko.
“When soccer is in your blood, it’s difficult to stay away forever. I started coaching Professionals and led them to win the erstwhile Bob Save Super Bowl Cup.”
Lehoko lives in Sharpeville. He has two sons and two daughters. Although he has retired from playing, he is still involved at grassroots level and coaches developmental teams in Emfuleni from the Under 12s and older.