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By Bruce Fraser | Sep 07, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

WHILE filling in the obligatory security form at the entrance to the Kaizer Chiefs headquarters in Naturena, Johannesburg, I couldn't help but notice the array of top-of-the-range vehicles leaving the premises.

WHILE filling in the obligatory security form at the entrance to the Kaizer Chiefs headquarters in Naturena, Johannesburg, I couldn't help but notice the array of top-of-the-range vehicles leaving the premises.

Mercs, BMWs and 4x4s quickly passed by - most with tinted windows, many with personalised number plates. Oh, to be a soccer player for one of the biggest clubs on the continent, I silently muttered to myself as we parked the company Mazda.

"Welcome to the family," said a club official before I had even opened the door. "Let me introduce you to Itumeleng Khune."

Still at the tender age of 22, Khune has achieved what so many boys in townships and cities scattered around the country dream of - to represent their country at football.

It's a dream Khune nurtured as well, growing up in Tshing, a township outside the town of Ventersdorp in the North West.

The difference is, through sheer hard work, he has made his dream come true.

"When we were kids we used to gather at a disused hall before classes at Letshelemane Primary School and kick a tennis ball around. After school it was the same thing," he says.

Times were tough for the family. Crammed into a RDP house were 10 people including his parents.

But was there always food on the table?

"Sometimes," Khune says.

Perhaps it was this early exposure to how cruel life can be that has shaped him into who he is today.

When he was 12 years old, Khune's father Elias scraped together the money to take his son for trials at Kaizer Chiefs. Out of the thousands who attended the selection process a young Khune was chosen as number 32 to join the club's development programme. It's a number he still carries on his back today.

"Over the years I've had the opportunity to change my number but have stuck with No 32. For me it has meaning."

The year was 1999 and because Khune's father was now living in Carletonville and working as a driver on a mine, it was decided the young goalminder would live with his dad because it was closer to Johannesburg.

"Every morning I would get up at 5am to catch the train to Braamfontein where Chiefs had enrolled me at New Nation College. After class I would run to Milo Park, which is by Helen Joseph Hospital, for training. After training I would run back to Langlaagte station to catch the train home to Carletonville."

All this at 12 years of age.

"I didn't care if I was eating or not eating. I had to accept the situation wasn't good at home and I decided I had to go out and change whatever had to be changed. You only have one opportunity . that's the passion I had.

"My parents were not happy because I would only arrive home late at night.

"Sometimes I had to sleep at the train station as I couldn't get home. There wasn't food. There wasn't money but we had to accept the situation."

Khune is obviously a lot tougher than he appears. He is extremely slight and cannot weigh much more than 80kg but he has a certain toughness about him.

At his beloved Chiefs he went straight from the under-13s to the reserve grade. It was a case of having to grow up overnight.

One player who took a liking to the young Khune was then first-choice goalkeeper Brian Baloyi. To this day their friendship still continues.

"Brian has been like my mentor, both on and off the pitch."

Away from football, Khune leads a pretty quiet lifestyle. He shares a house with his brother Lucky, also making his mark at Chiefs, a cousin and a friend.

Obviously concerned about his image he neither smokes nor drinks and prefers to spend his spare time playing X-Box on his computer at home, though he does enjoy watching cricket when the Proteas are in action.

"Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener used to be my favourites when I was growing up. Back in Ventersdorp we used to have a rubbish bin as the wickets and used a spade as the bat."

Like any local footballer he dreams of one day playing overseas, but it's not something that bothers him or that he is chasing after. For him if it happens, it happens.

"I am still young and will wait for my chance. Maybe when I am 26 or 27."

What about another club in South Africa?

"I hear people saying Sundowns, Sundowns, but I am happy here at Chiefs."

Although Khune does not attend church as often as he would like, he still makes a point of going when he's at home in Ventersdorp.

Khune has not let the success he has achieved go to his head.

He remains firmly grounded and feels now is the time to give back to his family - his mother and father in particular.

"My father had to sacrifice a lot. He inspired me. I took from him, now I'm the one giving back to my family.

"He would always say: 'My wife, my kids.' Now it is my time to spoil him. My father will never ask me for anything, he is too shy.

"I say to him. I'm your son, you are my dad, whatever you need I will offer."

Though his parents have always been Chiefs supporters, they didn't attend soccer games.

Despite this his mother, Florah, promised her son that if he played for Chiefs she would attend his games. It's a promise she kept and continues to keep.

"My mom attends all my matches and will often only arrive home in Ventersdorp at 2am. She will still phone me and say: 'I'm home safely, my boy!'"


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