Sons of the Sun – soccer club uniting children

In the Fish Hoek Valley, one soccer club offers underpriveledged children a safe place to practice their beautiful game

Have you seen the wild prehistoric expanses of the Cape Point Nature reserve? Have you eaten fresh fish 'n chips with the locals overlooking Kalk Bay Harbour? Then you might agree with visitors and residents alike that the Southern Peninsula is rich in beauty and cultural diversity.

With informal settlements neighbouring large, luxurious holiday houses, the division between rich and poor, however, is poignant and obvious. Except on a stretch of green somewhere in the scenic Fish Hoek valley. A handful of parents who don't take their privilege for granted have started a soccer club open to all at Noordhoek Sports Fields. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Noordhoek FC now boasts the most integrated soccer club of the Southern Peninsula.

Who cares? We do.

Ian Baguley, the club's spokesperson, calls the initiators "a bunch of soccer mad, over-the-hill, old cronies who where fed up with what was happening in the Fish Hoek valley."

Started in 29 October 2009 on a council field, the club has grown to 130 members, many of whom arrive barefoot and walk home. The age span is "six year olds to 60 year olds" according to soccer coach and film director, Jurgen Alan. The local council supports the project, and The Cape District Football Association welcomed the club with open arms. They host a growing group of children and young adults from Ocean View, Masiphumelele, Noordhoek, Sun Valley, Fish Hoek, Capri and Glen Cairn. Their first home game on Saturday 8 May 2010 prompted some wonder. "I have never seen so many people pitch up to support and watch football" Says Ian.

Learning the ropes, building the hopes

Besides healthy entertainment and exercise, one of the more remarkable benefits of the initiative is the social and personal spin-off for the participants. Coach Alan comments that "children’s confidence grows through the team." He smiles and pauses. "Of course it's also great for developing motor skills, but no 11 year old can run backwards.  We develop their understanding of the constant trickery of strategic playing, but you don’t need to be brilliant to play soccer and be part of a team. In rugby, if you hurt your shoulder, you may not play again. Soccer is a sport for the rest of your life."

Another thing we'll have for the rest of our lives is the challenge of rebalancing the cultural constraints of South Africa's largely patriarchal social systems. Noordhoek FC contributes positively and proactively to this by taking special care to cater to mums and children coming to watch. Members are actively taught to respect women and greet all parents they see. Refreshingly, race is not an issue in the mix of high and low (or no) income brackets.

"We’ve had one fight between players, and it wasn’t a colour issue; it was a culture issue – Xhosa and Zulu. We suspended them and explained firmly that they would have to apologise to each other and to the club if they wanted to play again. They did, and now those two are great friends."

Some of the parents have also started teaching English (and as they're teaching informally, probably learning a bit of isiXhosa). That's a score for hands-on, informal sustainable development.

The payoff and the plea

The club is running on the goodwill and out-of-pocket funding from some of the parents and organiser's pockets, but it's no hand-out. Players have to prove themselves, the rules are real ones that will stand them in good stead regardless of the professions or trades they take up in the future: earn your merits, pitch for training, train hard, be there regularly. According to the coaches, the commitment from the children is remarkable; especially when you appreciate that some walk all the way from their homes to practise in the rain.

To that end, the club is open to donations and support from the greater Cape Town area.

"Our plea is constant, should anybody have old boots, shirts, shorts, socks, footballs that they are no longer using, please donate it to us.” says Ian. The adult members have created a temporary clubhouse by converting two change rooms of the council building and plan to expand into a space with all amenities as time and budget allow.  Find it on Facebook "Noordhoek Football Club".

A healthier way of working together

Noordhoek FC looks beyond FIFA 2010. “The most exciting thing about building a new club is that you're a part of history, [it's] an opportunity to offer our kids somewhere safe to play away from computers and play stations, and for those who remain with us will hopefully see their children and grandchildren come through our ranks."

In the interim, Coach Alan has his eye on one player in particular. "Sausage is going to be a phenomenal player." he assures me and I'm glad to know that the World Cup fever is not just a momentary inspiration but a community motivation.

Find more great things to do for children here. Or keep up with the latest on the FIFA 2010 World Cup.  If you're hungry after the game, we can also match your appetite with a listing of local restaurants

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