An awesome experience
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Date: 16 April, 2004
Bailey. Photo courtesy
'That process from apartheid rule, to releasing Mandela and
coming to vote was absolutely awesome. People who don't know
South Africa's history wouldn't really know what it is like,
because they probably have democracy.'
Lyon meets up with former Manchester United goalkeeper Gary Bailey
Gary Bailey is best known as the blond Manchester United goalkeeper
of the 1980s.
Born in Ipswich, England, he moved to South Africa aged six and
returned to the UK in his teens.
After playing for the reds, he moved back to his beloved
South Africa in 1987.
"Oh yes, hi. I was wondering who the hell is phoning me at
this time in the morning!" laughs Gary when I call him at dawn.
Apparently his journey to Johannesburg Airport was the only time
he could guarantee to talk free of interruptions. Not surprising
considering he is a father of three, a businessman and a television
presenter and involved in charity work too.
Football is a family trait for the Baileys: Gary's father Roy played
for Ipswich Town before emigrating to South Africa. It was at the
end of Gary's second year at Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg
that he was chosen to represent the national team.
However at that time, due to the sanctions, South Africa couldn't
play international games except against what was then Rhodesia.
This led to pressure for Gary to move to England, so he could play
at a suitably high level.
"Fortunately my dad made me keep my British passport,"
Gary says. "He was the manager of the South African national
team at the time and although I was in the squad, he refused to
play me. He knew if he did it would nullify me from ever being able
to play with England.
"So I basically sat on the bench and they
said to me it was time to go overseas to see if I could make it,"
he explains. After 373 appearances as goalkeeper for Manchester
United and two for England, Gary was forced to retire due to a knee
injury in 1987.
Despite everybody denouncing him as crazy, Gary
returned to South Africa with his wife Kate during the brutal states
of emergency. He admits that: "everything was in the melting
pot, pushing for change."
Apparently the first thing he did in South Africa was to buy the
music of Johnny Clegg, the first white singer to record with black
musicians under apartheid. "All the rehab training I did to
get my knee strong again was to his music and the songs about Mandela
being in prison. I wasn't an activist but it was such an exciting
In a further shock to his friends he played for the Kaizer Chiefs,
the biggest club in South Africa: "It was amazing to be close
to the African culture at a time when most whites were probably
very fearful. There I was, this white guy in a black soccer team
going around in townships playing in huge soccer derbies."
After two years with the Chiefs, partly due to injury and partly
as a career decision, Gary left the game to start his own business.
He used football as a theme to train workforces. However according
to Gary, as workers began to understand principles of business such
as scoring goals and working as a team, the unions became obstructive.
But it was in 1992 that Gary was able to realise his dream when
he was offered a full time job with MNET, a South African television
station. Many would agree with his words: "You know to watch
English Premiership and European Champions league is what I would
do even if I wasn't getting paid for it."
Like most of South Africa, Gary describes the
transition in 1994 to full democracy as a miracle: "When I
came back in '87, I really felt that I was coming back to say goodbye
to South Africa. It was my home and I loved it but in the back of
my mind I was thinking 'there is no hope for the country.'
"That process from apartheid rule, to releasing
Mandela and coming to vote was absolutely awesome," he enthuses.
"People who don't know South Africa's history wouldn't really
know what it is like, because they probably have democracy."
Despite having worried that "the miracle was falling apart"
due to the crime and corruption that became so common after 1994,
Gary is very optimistic due to his fellow South Africans' determination
to fight the problems.
As well as his TV work, Gary is fully involved in working for the
country's future, through work with young footballers and victims
of apartheid. "I run a soccer academy at Pretoria University
that's on a world class level. We are now producing kids that I
think can do a lot for this country."
I keep quiet when he tells me that South Africa's
sport is in crisis, and the academy based on a similar English endeavour
will produce world-class players. I don't like to inform him that
some might question our country's footballing prowess.
Gary is also president and fund raiser for Yenzani, a charity for
abused children. He explains that this is huge issue in South Africa:
"A lot of children get caught up in homes where they are abused,
so this a shelter for them".
But possibly the most inspiring work that he is involved in has
stemmed from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. "Ginn
Fourie's daughter, Lyndie, was killed in 1993 in a bomb blast before
the election," says Gary as he starts a tale unusual even by
South African standards.
"Four years later in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,
the freedom fighters who set of the bomb refused to claim amnesty
because the felt they should pay for what they did. She was so touched
by that, she asked to meet the commander and the guy who set the
bomb off and they slowly reconciled."
He continues to describe a charity where they all now "raise
money for ex-combatants, people who were trained to kill and now
are trying to look for alternative work. It is an absolutely awesome,
So what about the future of South Africa? "I still think crime
is the main issue, crime is destroying the fabric of our society
and keeping foreign investors out. All my mates from overseas ask
the same question - is it safe? If we can sort crime out our tourism
will fly and with that the investment will fly.
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