George ace adds spark to Pirates

John Harvey

IT would be remiss not to say that Orlando Pirates are banking on new signing Lennox Bacela in more ways than one. While Pirates' opening games of the new season have been a mixed bag – losing to archrivals Kaizer Chiefs in the Carling Black Label Cup before demolishing Egypt's Al Ahly 3-0 last weekend – it is hoped the former Santos and Bloemfontein Celtic man will provide spark in front of goal.

Born and bred in George, Bacela's path to lead the attack of the superclub has been anything but ordinary – especially if one considers that for a brief period he worked in the Eden District Municipality's financial services division.

After having attended Tyholora Primary in George, he went on to represent York High's first team in both rugby and cricket.

"While I was at York playing flyhalf, Saracens [from England] toured in George. They were considering offering me a contract to play rugby for them but I was finishing my matric and could not go on tour with them," Bacela said.

"I had three sports I could choose from, but my father, Wana, was a brilliant soccer player and I wanted to honour him. I also loved soccer, even though they did not offer it at York. I played for my father's club."

After completing his school career, Bacela attended the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, where he studied financial systems, leading to a brief stint working for FNB in George and later the Eden Municipality.

"The fact is I loved soccer, that is where all my attention was. I was playing for a local club side in the Vodacom League, which happened to be a feeder team for Santos. That is how they picked me up. My best friend, [SuperSport United defender] Thabo September, was also playing professional soccer, and he kept encouraging me to go for my dream. Thabo, who is from Knysna, and I share a similar background, coming from small towns, so I always listened to him."

Bacela admitted it was also his hope to play for a "more glamorous club", and the gods answered his call in 2010 when Bloemfontein Celtic came knocking. In his time with Celtic, the striker astounded all and sundry with his natural prowess for goals and runs that left defenders breathless, although fate would have it that there were even greater things in store.

"There are no words to describe what it's like to play for Pirates. I still can't believe it, that here I am, a guy from George playing at this amazing club. The guys in Johannesburg ask things like, 'Where is George?' They don't know where it is," he said.

The demolition of Al Ahly – statistically the most powerful club side in Africa – has led Bacela to believe Pirates will enjoy a highly successful time of it this season.

"I remember when we lost to Chiefs in the Carling Cup, one of the backroom staff said it might be a blessing in disguise. That proved to be so true after that great performance against Al Ahly. This has been a big confidence boost for our season."