By Thomas Kwenaite
In an era where the majority of his peers in the Premier Soccer League spent their leisure time either cruising around in the latest German sedans or strolling at shopping malls, Bloemfontein Celtic striker Lerato Lamola would rather engage in social projects aimed to uplift his community.
A great supporter of good causes, over the years he has spent a little fortune contributing towards charitable causes. What is so admirable about it all is that he never seeks publicity about his community work and instead explains that the late former President Nelson Mandela taught us all to be selfless and to assist those that are unable to help themselves in the spirit of Ubuntu.
“It is true that I spend a portion of my monthly salary to purchase food to feed street kids in Mangaung,” reveals 26-year old Lamola. “I have volunteers who assists me to prepare meals for these street kids who now know where to come to receive their daily meals. I have been doing it since I arrived in Bloemfontein three years ago.
“In addition, I also run a special project where I purchase 40 pairs of shoes that I donate to children who attend a Primary School in Ivory Park where I grew up. I purchase 20 pairs in January and an additional 20 during winter holidays. It’s not a lot, I am aware, but its what I can afford and hope it can make a difference to these children.”
Lamola said the idea to contribute the shoes was sparked off by an incident one day when he witnessed a group of young children walking to school bare foot during winter and he was so deeply touched that he vowed when he turned professional and earning enough money, would ensure that those children wore proper shoes to school.
He is easily one of the most recognizable figures in local football thanks in no small part to his hard running, bang-bang style which saw the poster-boy from Limpopo setting the pace in the race for the golden boot from the start of the season, only to drop the baton on the last day to be pipped by eventual winner Moeketsi Sekola of Free State Stars by a single goal. This achievement has sparked a scramble for his signature by top clubs in Gauteng.
But Celtic owner Max Tshabalala claims Lamola is not going anywhere soon. The Bloemfontein businessman revealed that he first spotted Lamola playing for lower division side Vardos FC in Tembisa during promotional play-offs and recruited him for his feeder club Roses United.
“In a season alone, Lamola single-handedly carried the club to the National First Division and greatly inspired those around him,” said Tshabalala. “And once we did not stand in his way when Celtic came calling because we could see that he needed a bigger platform to express his God given talents.
“He has now fully settled in the Premier League and with proper guidance, I have no doubt that Lamola is headed for the top. In fact, I can confidently predict that Lamola would soon become a regular feature in the Bafana Bafana set-up.”
Growing in a rural area lacking proper recreational facilities where the only pastime for boys his age was either to herd livestock or kick around a woman stocking stuffed with plastics and newspapers as most of his barefooted peers dreamed of becoming future Doctor Khumalos and Lucas Radebes, except his mother would hear nothing of that.
“She twisted by ears one day and, pointing a menacing finger in my face she warned me that no son of Lamola will spend the rest of his life aimlessly chasing a football around if she could help it. She stamped her foot down and stressed that I would pursue an educational career whether I liked it or not, who could argue with her if she was in that mood?”
“I have completed a Diploma in Logistics. I have also dabbled a bit in law but am seriously considering partnering a well-known insurance company to open up an Investment business. That’s what I would be doing when my football playing days are over.”
Lamola reveals that he has been greatly inspired by former Orlando Pirates great – Bernard Lushozi – who juggled schooling and his football career and managed to find a perfect balance. Today Lushozi is a highly regarded schoolteacher in Soweto and leading a comfortable life.
“Football might be a glamorous sport, but in truth it is a cruel and short lived career. It breaks my heart to see players that used to dominate newspaper headlines now leading pathetic lives from hand to mouth, simply because they have nothing to fall back on when their career came to an end.
“The other day I bumped into a youngster I will not name who dropped out of school before even completing Matric simply because he was called up for national duty and was promised a professional contract with one of the top clubs. That promise was not fulfilled and now he is walking the streets, hopping from one club to another seeking a professional contract. I advised him to swallow his pride and go back to school, but he refuses which breaks my heart.”
Lamola has vowed to take over from where he left off last season, only this time he does not plan to be a bridesmaid, but intends to win the Golden Boot outright, especially after his club signed physically imposing Ugandan striker Geoffrey Massa to partner him in their striking force this season.
Lamola, who revealed that his two-years year old daughter and two month old boy inspire him to wake up every morning, knowing that he has to go to work in order to ensure that both do not starve.