Born in Soweto and originally a goalkeeper, Radebe (pronounced Ra-de-be(r), contrary to what English commentators called him throughout his Premiership career!) has become a figurehead not just for South African football, but also for a startling array of good causes he’s lent a kick to. He even lent some inspiration to a great British rock band.
After a stint at Kaizer Chiefs (a huge Soweto-based club that’s also had the likes of Gary Bailey on its books), Radebe moved to Leeds in 1994. He made an instant impact and soon became the team’s very own ‘Chief’, taking the captain’s armband before the end of the decade and leading Leeds to fourth place (and a Champions League spot) in the 1998/1999 season. In the next season he was at the helm of Leeds United when they made it all the way to that tournament’s semi-finals.
Knee and ankle injuries disrupted his time at Leeds and limited his participation with the national team (fondly known as Bafana Bafana: ‘The Boys’), but he was a part of the South African squad that won the African Cup of Nations in 1996. He was a hugely popular figure on the terraces at Elland Road, and that admiration and dedication worked both ways: he turned down transfer offers from both Manchester United and AC Milan. Before Radebe retired in 2005, a young Leeds-based rock act asked the legendary Lucas to help them with a name… And Kaiser Chiefs were born!
In 2005 Lucas was at the centre of a couple of testimonial matches, and these kick-started his post-soccer philanthropic pursuits (I don’t even think U2’s Bono is involved with as many worthy causes!). Radebe has been an ambassador for FIFA and received the FIFA Fair Play Award in 2000 for his contribution to ridding soccer of racism.
Radebe has also worked extensively with the children of the SOS Children’s Villages in South Africa, and when his wife passed away from cancer complications in 2008 he became a staunch supporter and promoter of Hospice SA. A constant and positive presence off the football pitch, he recently received another PFA Award, for Merit, during the same ceremony in which Wayne Rooney won the EPL Player of the Year.
On that evening he was quoted as saying, “Football has played such a big part in lifting my community,” but in actuality he has been an integral part of that process, and he continues to lend his winning smile and upbeat attitude to charitable causes and worthwhile endeavours; he’s been one of the busiest and most high profile ambassadors for the big event landing in SA soon.
More than any other South African footballer, Lucas Radebe embodies the optimistic spirit of this breathtaking country – and he lives and breathes the spirit of the Beautiful Game.