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The day I missed the chance to meet Nelson Mandela
3:00pm Wednesday 11th December 2013 in Sport
I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. “It is an ideal, which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But, my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Those words are part of a memorable speech from the late, great Nelson Mandela, given in court before his imprisonment in 1964.
It was so sad to hear the news of his death.
So many lovely words have been said of him since his passing, from those who knew him to those who didn’t, but such is his greatness, we all wanted to know him.
He was such an extraordinary man, a legend and an icon.
His life’s journey was one none of us could ever imagine going through. We certainly could not see ourselves coming out the other end, let alone coming out with nothing but love in our hearts.
After 27 years of imprisonment with hard labour, Mandela had more reason than anyone to fuelled by hate and anger.
He chose to go down a different path and set an example he wanted us all to follow.
There are some really lucky people who can boast they were fortunate enough to have shared his company.
I once came close to meeting him, but sadly for me, it never happened.
In 2001, Mandela was made an honorary freeman of the city of Leeds on his first official visit to the north of England.
I was playing for Leeds United at the time and the club captain, Lucas Radebe, was South African and a friend of Mandela’s.
Lucas asked if any players in the squad wanted to go with him to meet Mandela and my name was one of the first ones down. I made sure of that and I think I constantly pestered Lucas not to forget.
The night before the meeting, I went to bed excited, like a kid on Christmas Eve, but the following morning I woke up ill.
It wasn’t just an upset stomach, but the type of bug that leaves you sweating buckets, curled up in bed and just feeling sorry yourself.
I couldn’t believe it – I was all geared to meet the great man, not just meet him but to be in his company and maybe even have a long conversation with him.
I thought of braving it, but I was too weak and still sweating constantly. Being that ill was bad enough, but knowing what I was missing out made it even worse. I was just in bits and even writing this, I’m still gutted.
Right now I should be showing you a picture of me shaking hands with Nelson Mandela or embracing him. Instead, I have only a picture in my head of what might have been.
I will end as I began, with words from the great man: “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave mybitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
RIP Nelson Mandela