Where dreams are made...and lost

I first met footballer Emmanuel “Scara” Ngobese back in the last days of December 2003, and frankly I hadn’t thought of that incident much, at least not until I came across the news of his death this week.

The chance meeting happened at the end of a Tembisa instalment of an annual series of football tournaments that engage lovers of the game across Gauteng’s townships for most of the festive season. The said tournaments are also a great opportunity for these townships’ up-and-coming stars to impress scouts and possibly secure a “promise” of a good future in football.

I wouldn’t be too far off the mark if I were to say that I met Scara at the humble beginning of his career: he had just provided a splendid performance for the Tembisa tournament’s winning side, Columbia.
The team itself is small by the standards of the South African football industry, but it is big news in its hometown, Tembisa, and Tembisans from all walks of life threw a victory party in honour of their champions, specifically the star of the moment, Scara.

At the team’s victory party, the fact Scara was not a native of Tembisa made him somewhat of a novelty. Everybody wanted to be around him, celebrating him, his talent and the obviously bright future he had ahead of him ... and the ladies were no exception. They lingered around him in groups of varying numbers, but the first to get a grip on him (literally) was my football-crazy cousin, Lerato—not because she was caught up in the usual groupie hype, but because she felt a strong need to impart life lessons to this newfound celebrity.

Once Lerato had the attention of the seemingly shy Scara, she advised him of the need to keep a balanced lifestyle and stay away from bad influences and girls who seek fame and fortune like bees seek honey. “You are the one who has to stay true to yourself at the end of the day and not let their advances blind you,” I remember her saying.

As if that was not enough, she also told him: “The only reason they are here is that we were all screaming your name back at the stadium, and they want a piece of that celebrity. They may look pretty and sweet, but they can quickly turn into vultures, not caring one bit about how you are, but how much they can get out of you.”

The “vultures” appeared to be growing apprehensive and impatient. The night was young, but was waiting for no one, and Scara had to get back to the party in his honour, and thus ended the impromptu counselling session.

A crowd-pleaser
The show had to go on and so did life.

Over the next few years, Scara would continue to mesmerise South Africa’s football lovers as he had his fans from Tembisa. Fans loved the dribbling skills he brought to the field, and he quickly developed a reputation as more of a crowd-pleaser than a skilled player—but with fans galore, he continued to shine.

The young man from Katlehong on the East Rand had arrived, was making waves, and along with this, headlines—though more in tabloid newspapers than sports pages. It was becoming more and more evident that he had gone against Lerato’s advice and fallen for his own hype. At the very peak of his career, rumours of ill-discipline surfaced and critics wrote him off as another “short-term” star.

Granted, the football industry the world over has its share of bad boys, with some definitely badder than others. But it is worrying to think that the cycle of players wandering off into an abyss of used-to-bes will continue for as long as there is the game of football.

It’s a long journey from being discovered on the dusty sports ground of a township to the point where one needs financial and social management skills, and so some will fall off the tracks along the way as others make legends of themselves.

All this said, it’s sad to think of the humble beginnings of someone like Scara without thinking where it all went wrong. He would have celebrated his 30th birthday on June 3, eight days before the start of an event that all players of the beautiful game dream to participate in.

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