FOOTBALL: Ex-Terra Harris recalls Mandela meeting

Dorset Echo: MEMORABLE DAY: A young Andy Harris shakes hands with Nelson Mandela MEMORABLE DAY: A young Andy Harris shakes hands with Nelson Mandela

ANDY Harris has described the passing of Nelson Mandela as a loss to the world.

The former Weymouth midfielder was born in South Africa in February 1977 and got to meet the country’s most famous president back in 1994 during an end-of-season tour with Liverpool.

Harris, 36, told Echosport: “The world has lost a great leader and a fantastic man.

“I was listening to Jesse Jackson (civil rights activist) on the news talking about how Nelson Mandela chose reconciliation over retribution despite all the persecution he faced, and the impact he has had around the world has just been unbelievable.

“He formed the modern South Africa from how it used to be, and the system that was in place, to the cosmopolitan South Africa it is today. That happened through his dedication and leadership and he has been an inspiration to us all.”

Harris was just 17 when he met Mandela. He went on to add: “I was a first-year pro at Liverpool and it was my first time back in South Africa since I left as a child.

“It was all part of the United Bank Soccer Festival which also included the likes of Aston Villa, the Kaizer Chiefs and the Cape Town Spurs.

“Nelson Mandela had not long been out of prison at that time and was the country’s president, and I remember shaking hands with him at Ellis Park in Johannesburg before the Kaizer Chiefs game.

“There was a huge crowd and it turned out to be my first first-team appearance for the club.

“I am quite humble in my life and not one to shout off about things, but when I look at the pictures and think how I got the chance to meet such a great man, it really was a fantastic experience.

“I remember being aware of the whole situation at the time but I probably didn’t realise the enormity of it.

“He knew I was born in South Africa and I can remember him asking whether I was enjoying it.

“For him to recognise that was amazing.”

Mandela, a lifelong Liverpool fan, loved his sport and understood the power of it.

Harris continued: “He realised the impact sport can have and how it can bring people together.

Rugby was predominantly a white sport and football was predominantly a black sport in South Africa before he became president but that is not the case now.

“He knew that sport could unite people and he embraced that.”

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