Fans in Norway raise R2m on hearing ex-Bafana keeper Baron is living in poverty
Football supporters in Norway have raised close to R2m after hearing former Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Emile Baron, who played for Lillestrøm SK, was living in poverty and relying on handouts to feed his family.
Two reports detailing Baron's heartbreaking story on the website of Norwegian channel TV2 caught the attention of supporters in the country where the former Hellenic, Kaizer Chiefs and Bidvest Wits goalkeeper gained popularity playing for Lillestrøm from January 1999 to July 2004.
In a fundraising drive led by the official supporters' group of the club, Kanari-Fansen, fans and well-wishers in Norway contributed 1.1 million Kroner (R1.9m) to help Baron and his family get back on their feet.
The drive was confirmed by Baron and Lillestrøm communications head Morten Stokstad, who said by April 4 “1,099,300 Kroner was raised” and “4,961 individuals” gave money.
TimesLIVE is informed that, after an eviction from a single-bedroom house, some of the money has already been sent to Baron and alternative accommodation is being planned for the family of four.
“I am aware they are raising money for me and I want to thank them for what they are doing. But I am now talking to the organisers to see how I will get the money,” Baron said.
The drive followed two TV2 reports on Baron, in which he said things became so bad he tried to end his life four times, most recently in November. He has been mostly unemployed since his career ended when he broke his leg in a Premiership match for Wits against Orlando Pirates in 2013.
“Yes, at the moment almost 1.1 million Kroner has been raised to help Emile Baron after Norwegian TV2 published a story about his difficult life in South Africa,” Stokstad told TimesLIVE.
“The initiative came from our supporters, 'Kanari-Fansen', but the club has also been working with the supporters on it.
“It's pretty amazing. Of course, many of the contributors are fans of Lillestrøm, but many people from other clubs have also contributed.”
The first TV2 report, published on March 18, described how the former keeper, his wife Sheri and their two sons, 14 and nine, were living in a single-bedroom house owned by “the girlfriend of his wife's brother” in an unnamed, tough suburb in Johannesburg South.
The pictorial essay detailed Baron's life portraying that “there is not much left of Emile Baron”.
“His legs are as thin as chair legs, the contours of his collarbone clearly visible behind his canary yellow shirt. Under the cap, the hair has started to fall out.
“His smile is also gone. All he owns is a bag of clothes.”
The report said Baron received a government grant of “NOK500 [about R870] a month” as support for his two sons, “but that money is used up in a few days”.
“So Baron goes on a trip to collect empty bottles. If he is lucky, he meets some acquaintances who have a rand to spare, or a cigarette. By the end of the day, he might have enough to buy a loaf of bread.”
Baron told the website: “I have had to swallow my pride, for the sake of the family. I have to ask people for money.
“I am lucky to still have my wife here. Because normally, when things like that happen, they find someone else to be with.”
Baron told TV2 he never finished school so was not qualified do anything after playing. His leg became infected but he could not afford an operation for years, until a “local TV profile got him help to have the screws in his knee and ankle removed” in 2020.
News of the family's eviction from the small house in a second TV2 report spurred fans in Norway into action.
Stokstad said Norwegian former PSL CEO Kjetil Siem and the league's former competitions manager Kabelo “KB” Bosilong have been roped in by Lillestrøm and Kanari-Fansen to negotiate how the money can be disbursed to Baron in a responsible manner, and arrange details such as suitable accommodation.
Baron returned from Lillestrøm to play for Chiefs from 2004 to 2009 then turned out for SuperSport United and Wits.
He gave interviews in 2019 and 2020 on his declining situation, and claims he did not receive insurance money from the PSL after his injury and that his previous clubs in SA had not answered his appeals for help.
The TV2 reports indicate his situation worsened as he dropped off the radar in the past three years.
Support independent journalism by subscribing to the Sunday Times. Just R20 for the first month.