Growing up, Baroka FC striker Evidence Makgopa never really thought he could ever play football professionally. And while, like every other young boy anywhere, he carried cutouts of popular players around with him, it was not something for him.
But a few years later Makgopa is one of Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos’ trusted soldiers.
“I didn’t really play football until I was 13,” Makgopa told Fifa.Com recently. “I played street football, but I never played in a match. My life was dedicated to school. I studied every day, including Saturday and Sunday, and had to walk over ten kilometres to get to school and over ten kilometres to get home.
“And when I did have time, I was paranoid that I would play in a game and make a mistake, so I just stuck to kicking a ball on the streets.
“Then when I was 13 someone spotted me playing street football and said, ‘This boy can play’. Then I started playing in matches for the first time in my village. I played as a defender, but people didn’t really have positions.
“It was just everyone chasing after the ball, it was just for fun. The pitches were extremely difficult to play on. They were very dusty, there was no soft ground,”he explains.
Asked if by then the thought of being where he is today ever crossed his mind, he said: “No!
“That was too unrealistic to even dream about for someone from my village. Growing up in a small, rural area, you don’t really think about making it in life, let alone football.
“I had a file for school and I filled it with newspaper clippings about footballers. I used to look at them as I walked to school and think, ‘How good must it be to be that player? He must have an amazing life.’ But dreaming about doing what he was doing was too unrealistic. If you had told me then I would become a professional footballer I would have thought you were completely crazy.”
But then a scout from Baroka saw him during a festive season tournament in his village in 2018, and South Africa gained a striker who could solve the long running goalscoring problems.
“When I first heard it I was like, ‘Ok’ (in a surprised voice). My dream was to make it in life. This was something out of a crazy dream.
“I didn’t think I was good enough to become a professional footballer. I had a lot of doubts. But then I said to myself, ‘I can’t let this opportunity go. I have to give it everything.’”