Shaun Bartlett scored against Manchester United and Liverpool, was loved at Charlton, became a South Africa legend and Nelson Mandela even asked to come to his wedding
“Every time meeting Nelson Mandela was a great occasion. He was always personal.” Shaun Bartlett was still a teenager when South Africa’s former president made his long walk to freedom in 1990, but that didn’t stop him getting to know the great man well. Bartlett, who scored 28 times in 74 appearances for South Africa, […]
“Every time meeting Nelson Mandela was a great occasion. He was always personal.”
Shaun Bartlett was still a teenager when South Africa’s former president made his long walk to freedom in 1990, but that didn’t stop him getting to know the great man well.Bartlett (right) got to know Nelson Mandela while playing for the South Africa international team[/caption]
Bartlett, who scored 28 times in 74 appearances for South Africa, would get up early in the mornings while on international duty to meet Mandela, who would rise at 4am or 5am, a habit formed during the 27-and-a-half years he spent in prison.
Bartlett was honoured when Mandela wanted to go to his wedding, even though he wasn’t initially invited.
“A few years after meeting the great man, he wanted to come to my wedding,” he told talkSPORT.com. “I was very honoured as I think I’m the only footballer in South Africa who’s wedding he attended.
“It was one of those moments you can’t forget. It was probably the best wedding gift I could have received.Bartlett is South Africa’s second all-time top scorer, behind only Benni McCarthy[/caption]
“His granddaughter called me and said ‘you didn’t invite my grandfather’. At first, I asked my wife if we’d invited everybody we knew and she said we didn’t invite Nelson Mandela. Who’s going to invite the president anyway? He’s got such a busy schedule, where is he going to find the time?
“The days leading up to the wedding were mayhem.
“The man that he was, sitting down at 2.45pm knowing my wife would arrive at 3pm, just shows you how humble he was as a human being. He always made everyone feel special.
“Nobody knew he was coming besides my wife and I. It was a big surprise for even our parents walking in. The expression on everybody’s faces made it an awesome day.”
Those special moments off the pitch were intertwined with Bartlett’s notable occasions on it, including South Africa’s Africa Cup of Nations victory on home soil in 1996. It remains the only time they’ve won the competition.
Winning the tournament was a proud moment for the country having been banned from international football for 16 years by FIFA, before they were readmitted in 1992.Bartlett won the Africa Cup of Nations with South Africa in 1996[/caption]
When asked if it remains one of the proudest moments of his career, Bartlett said: “Yes, it was. I got my opportunity in the semi-final because Masinga got injured and I got to play with Mark Williams.
“Then I got to score a goal and cemented my place in the starting team for the final.
“That kickstarted my international career as far as Bafana Bafana were concerned.
“To win the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil was a dream come true. Nobody expected us to do that after being readmitted to international football four or five years after being isolated.
“As an individual it was great, as a team it was the best moment in South Africa soccer.”
Winning the Africa Cup of Nations increased Bartlett’s profile and he was recruited for the inaugural Major League Soccer season in 1997.
He joined Colorado Rapids before being traded to the MetroStars – who later became the New York Red Bulls – and was coached by none other than Brazil legend and World Cup-winning coach Carlos Alberto.
“It was a great experience for me leaving South Africa and also preparing me for where I wanted to end up, which was in Europe,” Bartlett continued.
“It was quite daunting (playing for Alberto). As a young player coming into a new league I knew the expectations and what he was all about and how successful he’d been as a manager.Bartlett played in the inaugural MLS season[/caption]
“He made me feel very comfortable and settled. Having an experienced player like Roberto Donadoni around me also helped me as a striker when you have somebody of that calibre playing behind you and feeding you opportunities.
“We had an unbelievable team, we had Tony Meola in goal, Tab Ramos as a midfielder and for the last three months we had Branco, the left-back of Brazil.
“We had some really good players, but for some reason we couldn’t reach the play-offs and there was some disappointment from the squad that we couldn’t find success on the field.”Bartlett won the Premier League goal of the season in 2001[/caption]
The striker went on to play at the 1998 World Cup in France, scoring twice in a group game against Saudi Arabia. To this day, no other South African player has more goals in a World Cup than he does.
This led to his chance in Europe with FC Zurich in 1998 before he got a dream move to the Premier League with Charlton in 2000.
Bartlett had a home debut to remember, scoring twice against Manchester United in an incredible 3-3 draw at The Valley.
“Not many people know this, but I supported Man United growing up,” Bartlett said.
“I was unbelievably nervous. I couldn’t eat the day before. I was really unsettled to be honest, but once the match started it was like business as usual.Bartlett’s notable moments in a Charlton shirt included a winner at Anfield[/caption]
“Just playing against them was the dream. This was a team who a year or two before had won the treble. To come up against them and suddenly score two goals, that was the cherry on the cake because I was more than happy just getting one goal.
“Being 3-1 down and we drew 3-3 was probably one of the best performances for me personally but also the team that I’ve been involved in.”
Bartlett had several memorable moments in a Charlton shirt. He won the Premier League goal of the season in 2000/01 with an incredible left-footed volley against Leicester and also scored a winner against Liverpool in front of The Kop.
“As a Man United fan, it was always nice scoring against Liverpool. Going to Anfield and scoring in front of the Kop.
“It was only after my football career that I found out what the Kop actually meant and the South African connection for that matter, with the war in South Africa and how Liverpool and that name came about. I never knew that.”
The Kop was named after a famous hill in South Africa, that was the site of the Battle of Spion Kop during the Boer War in 1900.Bartlett spent six years at Charlton before being released in 2006[/caption]
Bartlett played 139 times for Charlton and scored 26 times before he was released in 2006 and returned to South Africa, where he finished his career Kaizer Chiefs and then Bloemfontein Celtic.
He loved his time at the south London club and was a popular teammate and figure among fans.
Bartlett was gutted to go: “There was a certain element of disappointment, to be honest. I thought I had another season or two left in myself.
“I think (Alan) Curbishley and ten or 11 other players were released. That, for me, was maybe the one disappointment.
“The club were looking to go in another direction after doing so well over two or three seasons, finishing in the top ten and one season finishing seventh.
“The management or directors felt they wanted to push on for Europe and that was the wrong decision and backfired.”Bartlett hopes to one day return to England as a coach[/caption]
Since retiring, Bartlett has become a coach with Golden Arrows, Kaizer Chiefs and TS Galaxy.
When asked if he’d like to return to England to coach, he said: “Always. Like I was as a player, I always want to test myself against the best. That’s why I started all my coaching licences in the UK.
“That’s ultimately what I’m hoping and looking forward to. It’s all about getting the right opportunity and hopefully it will come at the right time, in order to make the best of it.
“Any player would love to coach a former club. It’s something for me that would be special. If an opportunity like that came about, I would jump at it with both hands and feet, to be honest because it’s the opportunity that you can’t let go by.
“I would love to be back in England and coaching a top team again.”