‘Chillies’ sat down with KICK OFF magazine in June 2010 – edition 378 and he spoke candidly of his 13-year soccer career that brought him fame and money, but left him with nothing but memories.
Lebese, who played for Kaizer Chiefs from 1993 until 2000, admitted he was initially not keen on being a ‘Glamour Boy’.
“I started at amateur club Orlando Wanderers and then I played for Orlando Hotspurs; this was a big team in Orlando. I was 15 at the time,” he reminisced.
The Soweto-born lad was spotted by Doctor Khumalo’s late father, Eliakim, who persuaded the teenager to join Chiefs. Initially, Lebese turned down the opportunity because of his affiliation to Chiefs’ archrivals Orlando Pirates, but relented a couple of weeks later and became a ‘Chief’.
“Pro said I must come play for him with Chiefs’ juniors and I said no and I told him, ‘I don’t like your team’ … I was a Pirates fan! But after two weeks I changed my mind and I went there. I only played two games with the reserve side and then I was promoted to the first team. I made my debut in 1993 against the same Pirates I grew up supporting,” he said.
Seven years later in 2000, Lebese grew disillusioned with life on the bench at Chiefs under Muhsin Ertugral and opted out – a decision he regretted until his death, by his own admission.
“I had been there for close to 10 years and leaving Chiefs was a big mistake… [But] I didn’t want to go to a bank ATM just to withdraw the money every month, so I just said ‘Bra K nna ke batla go spana [I want to work] for my money,” he said.
True to his word, one of South Africa’s best ever midfielders was a hit at the now defunct Ria Stars and Pirates, his childhood favourite club, came calling.
“I joined Pirates without a contract and there was also no signing-on-fee, but I got a R65 000 cheque from Irvin Khoza and he said it was to welcome me to the team. We just had a verbal contract. I didn’t mind, because I loved Pirates and I trusted the chairman very much. I only got the contract after a few months, but Pirates were able to register me with the League because I signed the PSL registration form,” Lebese revealed.
“Irvin was a busy guy and I didn’t want to put pressure… In the end things worked out for me at Pirates. I mean I was at Chiefs for 10 years and I never won a championship, but I played for Pirates for two seasons and I was a PSL champion,” he asserted, reflecting on Pirates’ 2000/01 League triumph under Gordon Igesund.
However, Lebese was on the move soon after Bucs roped in Roy Barreto, who arrived in tow with players from his former team Free State Stars such as Goodman Mazibuko and Hleza Mofedi.
Lebese packed up and left, but he lived to regret the decision … again!
“Barreto would have two sets of players; some training with him and some far away from him. I was part of those who were training far away and I just couldn’t take that anymore. So I left to join Silver Stars and from there my career just went downhill and I lost everything,” he said.
“After a season at Stars I went to Moroka Swallows, where problems off the field continued to affect me… I came from a poor family and I wanted to buy nice cars and clothes so people could see me but I lost everything. I also see this happen with the players these days and my advice to them is they must plan properly,” Lebese added.
THABANG LEBESE FACT FILEFull name: Thabang Johnny Lebese Born:24/8/73 in Orlando, Soweto Original clubs: Orlando Wanderers, Orlando Hotspurs (both amateur) Source: Kaizer Chiefs juniors. Debut: Orlando Pirates 0 Kaizer Chiefs 0 (28/8/93). First goal scored: Kaizer Chiefs 2 Orlando Pirates 3 (25/9/93). International debut: Namibia 3 South Africa 2 (25/1/98,Cosafa Castle Cup). Honours: 1 full international cap, 1 Under-23 cap; 2000/01 PSL champion; 2000 Bob Save Super Bowl winner; 1997, 1998 Rothmans Cup winner Career record:Year Club Games Goals93-00 Kaizer Chiefs 220 (+ 20 subs) 74 00/01 Ria Stars 28 (+ 1 sub) 8 Orlando Pirates 8 1 01/02 Orlando Pirates 13 (+ 17 subs) 3 02/03 Orlando Pirates 1 (+3 subs) 0 03/04 Silver Stars 3 (+ 6 subs) 0 Moroka Swallows 1 (+ 5 subs) 0 04/05 Black Leopards 5 (+ 5 subs) 0 05/06 Dynamos (1 sub only) 0Totals 279 86Correct as at 23/2/2012. League and cup matches only. Charity matches and friendlies not included.
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