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'White God' and the witchdoctor

He once faced Pele and now lines up for Chester Nomads - but with South Africa's Kaizer Chiefs, Peta Bala'c was a superstar

He once faced Pele and now lines up for Chester Nomads - but with South Africa's Kaizer Chiefs, Peta Bala'c was a superstar

FACING a penalty kick from Brazilian legend Pele is not something many people would forget, but Peta Bala'c has so many incredible memories that it is difficult to keep track of them all.

The Chester Nomads goalkeeper has travelled the world, guarding the posts both for and against some of football's greatest players.

Even now, the 'White God' can bring a South African airport to a standstill after his heroics for the Kaizer Chiefs over 20 years ago.

The 54-year-old from Boughton said: 'I never went back for six or seven years, but (when I did) the black people at the airport stopped everything so they could all come and greet me and let me through.

'In 1984 the Kaizer Chiefs won every trophy possible which has never been repeated, so that team is synonymous with South African football, like the 1966 team for England.'

Playing in front of 100,000-capacity crowds was quite a change for Peta, who started his career as a sprightly 17-year-old apprentice at Plymouth Argyle.

The Exeter-born keeper was breaking into the first team and looking to sign professional, so it was not the most obvious time to face arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen.

Peta, who now makes a living working in corporate hospitality, said: 'Santos toured England and came to Plymouth in 1972 at Home Park. When they saw 36,000 fans in the ground, they demanded more money, which delayed the game.

'I was 17 and came on in the second half, when Pele scored a penalty. As he was taking the penalty, none of the Santos players were on the edge of the box - they were in the centre waiting for the kick-off.

'We asked 'where are you going?' and they said 'he won't miss'. But we beat them 3-2.

'I wish I had got his shirt but you just don't think about it.'

Everything went to plan with the Pilgrims after Peta signed professional forms when he was 18. He was in the first team for the next four years, which then was relatively unheard of for someone so young. He then went on to win a call-up to the England youth squad, but could not break into the side and also failed to see eye to eye with Plymouth's new manager Tony Waiters.

While on loan at Hereford and Harry Gregg's Swansea in 1973, Peta considered a move to America but was persuaded by Waiters to use his contacts in South Africa.

Peta said: 'In six weeks I was on a plane for a 'holiday'. Years later I was still on holiday and I married out there.'

Peta started with Durban City, and during his time in South Africa he played with England heroes Johnny Haynes and Alan Ball, as well as the great George Best.

When he moved on to Lusitano, he was replaced by Bruce Grobbelaar, who moved into Peta's old digs too.

The pair still drank together while Grobbelaar was at Liverpool and are still friends.

Portugal star Eusebio had a brief spell at Lusitano and, for Peta, the eight games the pair played together was a highlight of his career.

The shot-stopper went on loan to Sporting Lisbon for six months before heading to Sacramento Gold in the US for just over a season, where he helped them to win the ASL championship.

Coming back to England, Peta was unable to settle at Hereford United and once again headed for South Africa.

A newspaper contact helped raise his profile and, in 1981, he became the only white player in the famous Kaizer Chiefs' line-up.

Peta had entered a world of diehard football fanatics where the rivalry between the Johannesburg-based Chiefs and Orlando Pirates was stronger than Celtic-Rangers, and the Chiefs' new signing quickly proved his worth.

Peta said: 'I had two bodyguards permanently with me, just to keep the supporters off us because they wanted to touch us.

'They lived for football so for someone to see a Kaizer Chiefs player - they could go and die after.

'I was always confident. I wasn't the biggest but I was brave and agile. There used to be big centre forwards coming at you in the Plymouth mud, but the hard grounds in South Africa helped me.

'There would be 100,000 people and I was the only white. They were sitting next to my goalposts and when I was looking to take a goal kick I had to ask the kids to move.

'We'd get 40,000 to friendlies. One time we arrived at 1am in the middle of nowhere and there were 15,000 fans waiting for us. It was just the bush and I don't know where they came from.'

In his stunning Kaizer Chiefs career, Peta won 13 trophies and claims the unofficial world record for consecutive clean sheets (21). It does not stand as a record as South Africa was suspended from Fifa at the time.

Coming back to England, Peta played in the Devon South Western League. After moving north to Chester, he spent 10 years playing in the Chester Sunday League for Shell Swan - as a midfielder rather than a goalkeeper, remembering the stunning one-touch training of his Chiefs team-mates.

He is now devoting 'one more year' to Chester Nomads Sixths, who have entered Division Two of this season's Chester and District League.

Peta, who missed Saturday's defeat to Rangers Breaks due to a calf injury, said: 'I still take it seriously, going to bed early the night before, because that's the way I was brought up. 'They're great guys who like their football. I'm reluctant going into the league but I just keep enjoying it although it now takes me three days to recover!

'I'm trying to get a veteran Kaizer Chiefs team together before I can't run any more. I'm desperate to play in front of 100,000 again just to say goodbye.'

Chicken's blood and other lucky charms

THE hard, dry pitches were not the only change for Peta to cope with once he moved to South Africa.

Witchdoctors followed the teams on their travels across the country, and Peta quickly discovered they were an integral part of the preparation before a big game, performing rituals to improve the team's chances.

He said: 'We used to travel by bus with witchdoctors and we had to see them before we played.

'In one of my earliest games we stayed in a hotel in Johannesburg. They woke me at 4am and took me to a room where the witchdoctors had a chicken. They cut off the chicken's head and poured the blood into a basin.'

They then got Peta to strip and threw the blood over him on the hotel bed.

He said: 'Here I am, a white Englishman playing my first year for a South African club and I'm stood naked covered in blood.'

As goalkeeper, he would also have to take a small lock and key onto the field in his shorts, which he would lock before the game started.

Peta said: 'That would lock the goal, then I would unlock it at half-time to let the goals in. They lost it one day so they went to a shop and got a padlock. I said 'If I fall on this I'll rip my appendix out'.'

But lucky charms or not, Peta fondly remembers his Kaizer Chiefs side winning 13 cups and never losing a cup final.

 

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