When he was 12, Itumeleng Khune made a promise to his father.
And it’s because of that promise that the renowned goalkeeper has said he is more determined than ever to reclaim the number one jersey at Kaizer Chiefs, and even become the most capped Bafana Bafana player in history.
Khune, now 32, says his desire to be the best is stronger than ever as he makes his comeback from a shoulder injury, and that he’s still motivated by the sacrifice his father made to buy him his first pair of football boots when he was a boy.
“I grew up in a big family. There were six of us and then our cousin, who was basically like an older brother to us. I dreamt of playing for Kaizer Chiefs because I loved the club. I grew up wanting to captain the team and play for Bafana Bafana. But my father had to compromise to buy me my first pair of boots. He had to choose between buying groceries for our family or the boots for me to follow my dream. He chose to buy me my boots.
And I made a promise to him that I wouldn’t fail him, and that I’d work as hard as I could to be the best. So I’m coming back to reclaim what belongs to me. I’m 32 now and I want to play until I’m 40. I’ve got 91 caps for Bafana Bafana and I want to go past Aaron Mokoena’s record of 107. I’m still hungry. I’m still passionate. And I’m still ready to work hard,” says Khune.
The memory of that promise to his father is even more relevant now as Khune is supporting the inaugural Kaizer Chiefs and Vodacom Red Father and Son Sleepout on 31 August. This once-in-a-lifetime experience, which is exclusive to Vodacom Red clients, will see 100 Kaizer Chiefs’ fathers and their sons connect with their beloved football club like never before as they camp out in style at the Kaizer Chiefs Village at Naturena. The experience is all about giving fathers and sons quality time with each other under the hashtag #BeAPresentDad.
“My father played a huge role in my football career and my upbringing. I regard him as a role model and one day I want to be just as good a father to my own children as he has been to me. That’s why I’m supporting this initiative with Vodacom and Kaizer Chiefs. My father believed in me and told me to go for my dream and never give up. And as his son I have always promised to make him proud.”
Khune’s determination to succeed and be the best is legendary, and it’s been the cornerstone of his football career.
“You know, when I first arrived at Kaizer Chiefs I came as a central defender because of my height. But I had a few health problems that became worse when I ran for long distances. I changed to a striker but still didn’t make it. The club let me go, but I stuck around at training even though I wasn’t part of the team. I stood behind the goalposts and when the players were doing shooting drills I would dive for the balls that went past.
“The Under-13 coach at the time said he was looking for a goalkeeper and I put up my hand. He laughed and said I’d failed as a defender and striker and now I wanted to be a goalkeeper. But he invited me to train with them. I had one session with them and that Saturday I played my first match for Kaizer Chiefs’ Under-13s. And at 16 I was selected for the reserve side. My father supported my whole journey. He was a mineworker and would travel from Carletonville to come and watch my matches. And I always promised him that I would make him proud, so I did my best in every match I played.”
Amongst the string of awards and achievements Khune has garnered throughout his career is being named the Premier Soccer League’s Goalkeeper of the Season multiple times. On one such occasion, Khune says he could not make the awards ceremony as he was ill.
“I had to call my dad and ask him to go and collect the award for me. He drove all the way from Ventersdorp and went up on the stage to collect it on my behalf. I was so proud to see him do that on TV. I wanted to be able to give him the same feeling I have when I have worked hard the entire season and then receive the reward. I wanted him to feel that as well. He cried and told me I couldn’t believe how proud I had made him.”
So when Khune says he’s coming back to reclaim what is his and become an even better goalkeeper, it’s worth listening to him.
He made a promise to his father. And he intends to keep it.