Brandon Truter just can’t forget that day some two decades ago!
A 21-year-old ‘Brakkies’ had led his young Santos boys to victory against Hellenic FC, revered as one of the best academies in Cape Town yesteryear.
After that nail-biting final, one of the boys who had fought tooth and nail to turn the tide in the ‘Greek gods’ favour was visibly livid.
The seething teenager threw his soccer boots aside and sat down just to sob. Uncontrollably that is. Nothing could convince him what had happened was part of a game he would play professionally for a good two decades…and counting. He just loathed losing.
“We won that game, it was a final between Santos and Hellenic. It was an Under 17 tournament,” Truter tells FARPost.
Vuyo Calvin Mere, captain on that day, was annoyed they had succumbed to defeat. He wanted nothing less than victory.
And, rightly so, because he had thrown everything at the opponents from that holding midfield position.
“He was livid, he threw his boots aside after the game and sat down and cried. We all knew who he was. He was one of the high profile youngsters in the academy,” Truter recalls.
That was and has been the dissimilarity between Mere and his peers. It is perhaps the reason he is still standing and all his peers have retired.
The Bloemfontein-born star counts renowned yesteryear stars like the late Edzai Kasinauyo, Thabo Mngomeni (pictured below), your Gareth Ormshaw, Joel Masilela, Joas Magolego and Craig Rosslee as men he shared a dressing room with once upon a time. It’s the kind of names that will swiftly exclude ama2000 from a diski dialogue.
Indeed, he has had quite the journey in local football. And naturally, like any other football star, he has been on the losing side. Many times actually.
But it’s never been something he gets used to. “Even today at training we were playing 7v7 and his team was down 4-3. He was having a real go at his teammates,” reveals Truter on Tuesday after Swallows FC’s training session. Some things just never change, huh!
Sounds like the same hunger and drive that caught Mark Bryne’s eye when he was scouting for talent at a provincial tournament in Gauteng.
Admittedly, there was nothing astonishing at first glance about the young boy from Heidedal, a dominantly coloured community in Mangaung.
But all thanks to his determination, passion and unparalleled love for the game, he evolved into a true remarkable leader on the pitch.
He was a 12-year-old the first time Bryne spotted him. No wonder, the courteous Mere still refers to him as his dad when FARPost makes him listen to what Bryne said about his early football days.
“I’m even emotional listening to my dad Mark Bryne, the coach that instilled discipline and hard work in me. I really owe him my life ‘cause of what he did for my family and I,” a gratified Mere tells FARPost.
The feeling is mutual for both men. The former Santos captain, Bryne, has not forgotten that bright, sunny afternoon at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Acardia, Pretoria.
Loftus – home of double rugby domestic champions Blue Bulls – was a hive of activity that day. It was an Under 14 provincial tournament, drawing youngsters from all over the country.
Obviously, at that level – it’s hits and misses. Anything can happen with budding young footballers!
But on that particular day, the gods must have smiled on the man who now runs the Greek gods. “We scouted him at an inter-provincial tournament at Loftus. It was an Under 14 tournament. We were out and about scouting for talent,” Bryne tells FARPost.
While the boy had all the fixings that qualify a young talent to be considered promising – your football technique, pace and a little bit of skill – “he had a great spirit and great character” at least according to his footie ‘dad’.
After spotting the boy and enquiring about him, the Hellenic team had to convince his family to allow him to move to the Mother City. Mom, just like any other mommy, wanted her little boy next to her, but dad was ready to let his lil’ man fly solo.
And so, they set out to the Mother City to have a look at the facilities and school where their lad would be going.
“His parents came through to see the facilities,” recalls Bryne. “We had organised a wonderful hostel and schooling. We were one of the top clubs in the country at the time. They knew Hellenic, and they knew what we were about so it was an easy conversation.”
And so, for the next couple of years, the coaching staff of the Milnerton-based side moulded this self-effacing Free State boy.
He would visit home for the holidays every six months, having saved up from his R750 monthly allowance to buy clothes at the factory shops for his family.
“He wanted to be as successful as he could be so he could help his family in Bloemfontein,” adds Bryne.
The club paid for his schooling, accommodation and food. He was always in club gear, so he could easily save his little earnings.
On the pitch, Mere, the fledgling holding midfielder or the right winger at times, was far from the finished article he is today. By his own admission, he never imagined he’d have such a cracker of a journey in football.
“He wasn’t the best growing up, but he had a good coachable attitude and worked extremely hard and could do extra sessions since he was staying at the hostel. We played him as a holding midfielder or wide on the right. He had so much energy,” Bryne says.
Exactly five years after plucking him from that insignificant ‘small-town’ tournament, Steve Haupt, who was at the helm of the Greek gods’ first team, threw the fresh-faced teenager into the fray. The team was struggling at the time and so Haupt thought infusing young blood would turn around their fortunes.
The date was August 18, 2001. The opponent was Black Leopards right at the Athlone Stadium near the infamous Cape Flats.
Mngomeni, who would feature in the FIFA World Cup the following year for Bafana Bafana, vividly remembers that day.
“He was one of the youngsters who were lucky to play alongside experienced players. Luckily, he was willing to learn and that helped him settle in. It also helped that he didn’t grow big-headed early in his career,” says a delighted Mngomeni.
Mere would spend three seasons in the senior team, making 37 appearances. The last was the most difficult as the team only managed to win one match against Mamelodi Sundowns.
Interestingly, Sundowns would be his next home, thanks to Neil Tovey, who had taken over as Hellenic coach (the club was sold and played in the first division as Benoni Premier United in 2004).
But the teenager had to resist the urge to join Ajax Cape Town, who were guaranteeing him game time.
In any case, at the Brazilians, he would probably have Dan Semake, Raymond Senoa and Frank Guela ahead of him in the pecking order. Nobody gave him a chance. Understandably so.
Little did his doubters know that his career would blossom in Tshwane. He had his first taste of Premier League success when they were crowned champions twice successively (2005/06, 2006/07). As if that was not enough, they also won the SAA Supa8 (2007) and the Nedbank Cup (2008).
Then followed a brief loan spell at Swallows during the second half of the 2010/11 season.
This effectively led to his departure from Sundowns, who declined to offer him a new contract after his loan spell at Swallows lapsed.
The once mighty Mere suddenly found himself without a job and no club seemed interested in him.
A dark period in his life and career would set in, he recalls. Depression would be the order of the day as he couldn’t afford the lifestyle he had lived during his seven-year spell at Chloorkop between 2004 and 2011.
“All the glory and bonuses I had enjoyed at Sundowns were not going to be there anymore,” he says.
He came close to committing suicide and credits his parents’ timely arrival for not ending his life.
Pursuing the divine Supreme Being marked the about-turn of a player who was once disreputably part of the PSL’s bad boys’ club while with Masandawana.
As his favourite book suggests ‘weeping will endure for a night but joy comes in the morning’, his God, he believes, was busy ‘behind the scenes’.
Perhaps that explains why he demonstrates his staunch religious beliefs by going down on bended knee after every game in silent prayer. He remains in awe of how God transformed his life.
Clubless for three months, he found himself training with Alexander United. Yebo Yes FC then came calling.
But after handling big bucks at Chloorkop, that was not what he wanted. The thought of playing in the third tier disheartened him to the core.
Luckily, he was invited for trials at Platinum Stars. It was time to start afresh. And, that he did!
At Dikwena, he continued notching up winners’ medals. Captain Fantastic added the 2013 Telkom Knockout and 2013 MTN8 trophies to his mantelpiece, making him one of just a few players in the local game to have won every piece of silverware in the country.
After a year with Bidvest Wits between 2018 and 2019, the former youth international reunited with Swallows. His latest medal came after he helped The Birds as they clinched the GladAfrica Championship in spectacular fashion, gaining automatic promotion to the Premiership in October.
“Each time we’re trailing at halftime or during a game, he’s that one person who motivates everyone to keep going. He hates losing,” says his Swallows teammate, Thabo Matlaba.
Exactly three weeks from now, Mere, capped 12 times for Bafana, turns 37 yet he remains an integral part of the beautiful work Truter is doing at the Soweto giants.
In recent times, not even three players can claim to have played elite football, regularly that is, for 20 years and counting. He credits his longevity in the game to taking good care of his body, eating well and his unparalleled love for training. Above all, he gives glory to his Maker!
Mere, who has made over 500 PSL appearances, is definitely not one to add numbers. That same determination that caught the eye of Bryne, the same hunger that made him sob after losing to Truter’s Santos is not lost.
“He’s been consistent, he still does the same things he did back then,” Mngomeni says, with Truter concurring.
Truly, the man is rare. His kind is nearly extinct.
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By Mthokozisi Dube