Lucas Radebe spoke ahead of the first Barclays Premier League Live interactive experience, a free two-day event at the Zoo Lake Sports Club in Johannesburg this weekendRadebe made his name in England by joining English Premier League side, Leeds United back in 1994. He was 25-years-old, hailing from South African giants Kaizer Chiefs.
'Rhoo', spoke to the Premier League official website about life in the English top flight.
"It was a huge surprise. I only knew about a couple of teams, Manchester United and Liverpool. Back then we didn't have much exposure in terms of matches on TV, so we didn't see many games," he told the Premier League site.
"I didn't know the first thing about Leeds but I knew the Premier League, which for me was a dream. If you want to play professional football that's where you want to be, in the Premier League, playing with the best, but I hadn't been so far away from home, and I mean days away from home, before. Still, I took the opportunity to elevate my career and made up my mind that football was going to be my complete focus."
The Soweto-born Bafana legend made his Leeds debut against Sheffield Wednesday in a Yorkshire derby in September 1994. Rhoo went on to make 197 Premier League appearances.
"Everything was different. Oh, it was miles different to what I was used to. I'd never tasted Premier League football, but everything was different; the training first of all. The intensity and the amount of training we had to do was incredibly hard, especially the preparation for matches week-in week-out; you had to up your level of fitness to be at the very top of the game. For me that was amazing," said Radebe.
Radebe went on to captain Leeds, reaching the Uefa Champions League semi-finals in 2000.
"It was so exciting. The fans, the atmosphere, not only inside the stadium, but driving into the stadium. I was amazed because it was so quick and tough physically. And the pace of the game was 100mph. I never got used to that. The worst part was my first game for Leeds was out on the right wing, and I wasn't that fast. They were expecting me to gallop down the line and get some crosses in. Jesus, what an introduction to English football that was. Unbelievable!" he said.
Radebe retired from football in 2005 at the age of 36. Leeds held a testimonial for him at Elland Road Stadium during the same year and the match was attended by a crowd of over 37,886. 'Rhoo' is currently part of the South African Football Association (Safa) technical committee.
"But it was so exciting. The fans, the atmosphere, not only inside the stadium but driving into the stadium, how the people were really taking to the players. It was great. I remember when I was warming up on the touchline the whole stadium was singing, 'Who are you? Who are you? I was so nervous, seriously, because I didn't know what to expect, and just looking at the pace of the game scared me senseless," said Radebe.
"That's when I showed my character in terms of being patient, withstanding the conditions in Yorkshire and being part, not just of the whole project the club had in the community. I was always chatting to the fans, signing autographs and spending more time with them which got me closer to them, which helped me to become a popular figure in the club," he said.
“Life is not the same without football. It was a privilege to play in the most exciting and viewed league in the world. It put us on a different pedestal.”