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Ken Borland

SuperRugby final a benefit for entire city – Lions CEO 0

Posted on August 02, 2017 by Ken


Saturday’s SuperRugby final that the Lions will host at Ellis Park against the Crusaders is going to benefit not just the rugby franchise but the entire city of Johannesburg, according to CEO Rudolf Straeuli.

A sell-out crowd of more than 60 000 has already been confirmed for the showdown as the Lions look to complete their fairytale resurgence by beating the most successful team in SuperRugby history and becoming only the second South African side to win the southern hemisphere franchise competition.

“Hosting the final is going to be a huge benefit for everyone who finds value at Ellis Park. It’s not just the union that benefits, it obviously also helps the Ellis Park Stadium Pty and it’s a huge marketing opportunity for the Lions company and a great honour to host the final. There’s the money from the tickets and hospitality and some extra reward in the form of the prizemoney. None of that was budgeted for, so it’s a bonus.

“But it’s also a big positive for Johannesburg, the whole city, and especially the Ellis Park precinct, all our neighbours. We are really blessed to be able to host such great events, we’ve had the All Blacks here before and the Test against France this year was also a big success,” Straeuli told The Citizen on Tuesday.

The Lions have not only established themselves at the pinnacle of South African rugby, but have also had to manoeuvre themselves out of troubled financial waters in the last five years.

“You can’t take anything away from the team because they are our flagship, and our juniors have done very well too with our Craven Week side being the best and our U21s and U19s winning their competitions last year. But a few years ago we were a business that was having retrenchments. But some staff took pay-cuts and simplicity has been key to our operations.

“We don’t have a big staff for the big area we have to manage and we have had to cut our cloth according to our needs. But there’s a really positive mood and success breeds further success. Plus people like Kevin de Klerk (president) and Altmann Allers (vice-president) are serious businessmen. If we didn’t have them behind us and their business acumen and that of the board, never mind their own money they have put in, then we wouldn’t be here,” Straeuli said.

Former Vaal greats tapping into the reservoir of footballing talent in Sedibeng 0

Posted on July 29, 2016 by Ken


There is a vast, largely untapped reservoir of footballing talent lurking out of sight and out of mind near Johannesburg. The gritty industrial area known as the Vaal south of Jozi is a region that lives in the shadow of the great city and its famous stepchild, Soweto.

More than one million people live in the Sedibeng region that includes historic locations like Sharpeville, Sebokeng and Evaton. The Vaal is also the gravitational heart for the northern Free State dorps of Heilbron, Parys, Kroonstad, Sasolburg and also Heidelberg.

Rich in political history, this area has a lesser known heroic soccer past too, with a local team being the first to represent then newly-democratic South Africa in African competition.

While the locals complain about the roads that are rapidly becoming potholes surrounded by islands of tar and wonder how the massive ArcelorMittal factory in Vanderbijlpark benefits the community, there is a group of residents who are laying the foundations for not only the development of all that football talent in the region, but also a long-desired return of professional soccer to the Vaal Triangle.

Vaal Professionals were based in the Sedibeng region and used to be one of the most feared teams in the old national soccer league, winning the BobSave SuperBowl (now the Nedbank Cup) in 1994, becoming the first South African team to play in the Mandela Cup – the African Cup Winners’ cup – and being a founder member of the PSL in 1996.

But football politics and the depressed economic situation of the region reared their ugly heads and Vaal Professionals disappeared around the turn of the century. Their coach at that time was the former Kaizer Chiefs legend Simon “Bull” Lehoko and he is behind the efforts to resurrect the club where his fabulous career started.

“Back in 1970, the NPSL was formed and we were one of the founder members. I played for Vaal Professionals for seven years, but in my eighth year I went to Kaizer Chiefs and Vaal Professionals were relegated to the second division,” said Lehoko.

“I spent eight years at Kaizer Chiefs before I retired in 1985 because of my knee. Kaizer Motaung refused to let me go, but I came back home to work with young guys and rebuild the Vaal Professionals team with Johannes “Man” Direro and 10 other players from Real X20, my father’s team.

“Then the split came, when the NSL was formed in 1985 and they took all the best teams and sponsors. But the NPSL president was our own George Thabe, a local man, so it made it tough for us to choose who to follow.”

He said, “But the George Thabe Stadium was still full when we played the top teams and it became a stronghold of the NPSL, even though the NSL was favoured in places like Boipatong and Sebokeng. But there was no prize money in the NPSL for three or four years and the players called a meeting with the supporters. Players were starting to go for nothing and we were aware that we could lose the whole team.

“So we decided to leave the NPSL but the NSL gave us a second-division place in 1988 even though they had promised us a first division place because we were very strong, winning the NPSL from 1986 to 1988. We chased promotion until 1991, but there was a lot of bribery in those days and points were taken away from us.

“We would lead for the whole year but then it would fall apart at the end with referees giving us red cards and other things. An example was what happened to us when we were leading 3-0 at Potgietersrus. The referee gave penalties against us until it was 3-4 and then the red cards came.

“Teams fielded ineligible players against us and we won those cases despite the arbitrator being the same guy who heard the original case. We were also offered R150 000 to only take promotion the following year,” Lehoko remembered.

Promotion eventually came and Vaal Professionals were a tough side to beat, especially at their home venues of George Thabe and Zamdela stadiums.

“We were doing well and teams like Chiefs and Pirates used to jump the fences here to avoid the muti they thought was outside the change rooms …

“But by 1997/98, everybody was after us. We were offered R8-million to disappear but this club serves the community! They won’t go to Orlando Stadium or go watch Kaizer Chiefs, we even had a supporters’ club in Soweto.

“So they tried to relegate us using the referees. But one referee actually gave his money back, saying Vaal Professionals were too powerful. The only way they could beat us was by underhand means,” he said.

While Lehoko and several of his former Vaal Professionals colleagues have their hearts set on top-level football returning to the area, they are also squarely behind efforts at grassroots level to develop not only the football skills of youth in the area but also their life skills and ability to handle the tremendous social challenges they face.

The idea of drawing on the experience of these former professional footballers was Richard “Bricks” Mokolo’s. A former Vaal Professionals player, Mokolo is a paralegal for the Centre for Human Rights and the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Centre, and is also involved in campaigns against racism and xenophobia.

He formed the Soccer Legends in 2007 and the impressive initiative benefits both the former players, who often don’t know what to do with themselves once their careers have ended, and the youth who need guidance and inspiration.

“For most former players, it’s a dramatic life change when you retire and it can become very stressful. They feel they’ve lost control of their lives; you’re no more Bull the Man. That kind of prestige is addictive and they lose their dignity along with the fame and respect. Now you’re on your own plus you have to provide for your family and you’re unemployed,” said Mokolo.

“But we’ve opened the door with this programme for the legends to get recognition and their space back. Before, a lot of these former players were unemployed and they would just drink during the day. Man Direro was a teacher and this gives him a chance to do something, to share his experience with learners and assist with life skills as well as being a soccer coach. There are about 40 former professional footballers in the Soccer Legends and they can also assist current players to plan and prepare for the future.”

This means half the benefit goes to the former players doing the teaching and the other half to their students. But they are not just being given football tips by the pros but also being taught life skills.

“It’s not just about soccer but also about social challenges. We’re not just teaching them skills because they come from poor families and we can’t forget about their backgrounds. We teach the Soccer Legends to deal with these issues. We’ve conducted research into the challenges facing both current and future players, and substance abuse is the main problem.

“We also offer counselling for those who’ve suffered domestic violence and we can mediate as alternative role models in the community. We encourage the children to use libraries and we support reading and writing projects.

“The kids may not have seen the Soccer Legends play, but when they’re introduced it motivates children through sports,” Mokolo points out.

A prime example of the success of the Soccer Legends project comes in the form of the Jet Nteo and Mohloli secondary schools, who have excelled in the Motsepe Cup, a top-class national schools competition that this year offers R1-million to the winning team.

A year after introducing the Soccer Legends programme to the Boipatong school, Jet Nteo won the Motsepe Cup and Mohloli, from Sharpeville, also have a fine record in the competition.

Lehoko said: “Bricks is a professor of life skills and he organised courses for us at the Sports Science Institute, the department of sports and recreation and Theta. But to do these courses you rely on sponsorships.”

The Soccer Legends is a pilot project and Mokolo says a lack of funding is all that is holding it back from making an even bigger impact in the Sedibeng area.

“We’ve started a pilot project and we’re seeing the results. The problem is we have no sponsors. Most times we’re in the schools it’s because we’ve volunteered and we can’t keep the children for more than three hours without food. The municipality says they have no money to help us.”

Among the dozens of complaints heard in one day chatting to the Soccer Legends were that local politicians are more interested in petty power plays than actually supporting efforts to benefit the community, that promises made before the 2010 World Cup have never come to fruition and that professional teams don’t belong to the communities they are based in.

People inside the municipality want to control the football projects, but they know nothing about football and they don’t want to bring these opportunities to the Soccer Legends. They’re not actually implementing anything,” Aggripa “Malombo” Tsoari complained.

“Most people here are saying the Soccer Legends are the last hope,” according to Mokolo.

“By 2008 we were strong and preparing for the World Cup. They were told after the World Cup that their lives would change … We were given hope that life will change, and things have changed, but only to make us poorer.”

Not coincidentally, the hundreds of protesters who gathered in Zamdela in early April were venting their anger at the alleged corruption in mayor Brutus Mahlaku’s office.

As Mokolo pointed out, footballers have also been at the forefront of local politics in this country. “We used to say we were victims of apartheid and we couldn’t take our talent to the outside world. At Vaal Professionals, one of our officials was a security policeman. He would take our training in the morning and then arrest us at night for being protesters!

“It was a milestone when football liberation was achieved and we were integrated 19 years before Nelson Mandela was released. But now we’re football victims but no one called us to the TRC.”

So instead Mokolo, the sort of proactive, hands-on administrator that gets things going and makes ideas work, has set up the Bull Lehoko Fund to “capacitate” the Soccer Legends. “There’s no chance of politicians doing anything, so we need to come up with strategies to survive, like the Bull Lehoko Fund which links football to social challenges like nutrition, food and education. As a group, we want to arm ourselves with different skills,” said Mokolo.

How exciting would it be to see not only the return of Vaal Professionals but also the grassroots growth of the game in that area being put under the control of professionals like the Soccer Legends?

Tshwane Open moves to the heart of the city 0

Posted on June 26, 2015 by Ken

This year’s Tshwane Open will really be played in the heart of the city after the announcement yesterday that the co-sanctioned golf tournament will be hosted by the Pretoria Country Club in Waterkloof from March 12-15.

The Pretoria Country Club is 105 years old and is renowned for being a quality sports and social venue in the capital. Set in the magnificent surrounds of Waterkloof, the Country Club boasts a par-71 parklands golf course, designed by the Gary Player Group.

Sunshine Tour commissioner Selwyn Nathan explained that the tournament has been moved from Copperleaf near Centurion after two years because the Tshwane Metro would like to see the European Tour event move around the city every couple of years. Nathan said he hoped Pretoria Country Club would also be hosts for at least two years.

Subesh Pillay, the MMC responsible for Economic Development and Planning, explained why the City of Tshwane were investing in the tournament again.

“We took a bit of flak initially because many people asked why we are spending money on golf when there are backlogs in housing, electricity and water. But the decision was not taken lightly and we did it because of what the tournament meant for the city, because it added value.

“Tourism is the biggest contributor to our economy and the Tshwane Open received coverage in 47 countries last year and it reached 217 million households. The global media coverage we received was worth $67 million and the direct impact to the city was R44.5 million. Plus 202 temporary jobs were created by the tournament in 2014,” Pillay said.

Pretoria Country Club is not by any means long by professional standards at 6459 metres, but she will be able to protect herself through tight fairways and rough that can be brutal at the end of summer.

Nathan said the Tshwane Open provided an important platform for the rising stars of the game both in South Africa and from Europe.

“It’s an enormous platform for young players, it tests their skills and enables them to compete all over the world. Look at our previous two winners: Dawie van der Walt was nowhere in world terms and now he’s playing in both the United States and Europe and is having big success; Ross Fisher, last year’s winner, is now second on the Race to Dubai,” Nathan said. “I can almost guarantee that whoever wins this year will also go on to great heights.”

Nathan said he was optimistic Fisher would return to defend his title, while most of South Africa’s regular European Tour campaigners should also tee it up because there is no other competing tournament for them on the schedule that week.

“I have commitments from a big group of European Tour golfers, there’s no reason for them to be anywhere else that week plus there’s prizemoney of 1.5 million euro – about R18 million – for them to play for,” Nathan said.



Northerns Cricket Union history 0

Posted on December 07, 2014 by Ken

Cricket may be the archetypal English sport, but there is a long history of it being played in Pretoria and one of the earliest mentions of the game in the city was in August 1874 when a Volksraad meeting was interrupted by Jim Nobel, President Burgers’ secretary, slogging a ball through the window of the chamber and narrowly missing the Speaker.

Those early Landvaders almost decided to ban cricket from the city square, but President Burgers and the attorney-general were both lovers of the game and the sport was given a reprieve.

Those pioneering Pretoria cricketers moved to a cattle compound on Widow Hoffman’s farm, in what is now Fountains Valley, in 1882 and their ground became known as Berea Park, where several Pretoria v Potchefstroom matches were held.

There was already a black cricket club playing in Elandsfontein, the Diggers, in 1898 and by 1937 there were more than 50 black clubs spread between Randfontein and Nigel.

Those were the days of the Transvaal Republic and the best cricketers from the Pretoria region would play for Transvaal, until 1937 when North-Eastern Transvaal was included in South African domestic cricket in its own right.

North-Eastern Transvaal’s first first-class match was played in December 1937, in the 25th edition of the Currie Cup, as they took on Western Province at Berea Park. Lennox Brown, who played in two Tests for South Africa in 1931/32, took five for 54 and William Lance, the father of Tiger, claimed three for 19 as the inexperienced home side limited the powerful Capetonians to just a 10-run first-innings lead.

Brown then top-scored with 42 in the North-Eastern Transvaal second innings, but the debutants ultimately went down by just three wickets.

North-Eastern Transvaal also often played in Benoni, at the same Willowmoore Park ground that has become a Titans stronghold in the present day, but they were considered a second division team and only played in the A Section of the Currie Cup again in 1960/61 and 1967/68.

In 1971, the North-Eastern Transvaal Cricket Union became the Northern Transvaal Cricket Union, and in 1979/80 they returned to the A Division.

But with all the socio-economic problems in South Africa and Berea Park now being nearly a hundred years old, Northerns cricket remained a hospital case and they needed a doctor to steer them into the bright future they now enjoy.

That doctor was chemical engineer Willie Basson and as chairman of the NTCU he began chasing what he would later describe as “a ridiculous dream” in 1981/82 when the search for a new home for the union began.

It was a momentous year on the field as well as the Northerns B side was entered into first-class competition for the first time, playing in the Bowl, and the senior team won for the first time in the A Section as they beat Eastern Province in Port Elizabeth under captain Norman Featherstone. English swing bowler Chris Old took eight wickets in the match and there were important 70s from Rodney Ontong and Vernon du Preez.

And in 1982, former Transvaal stars such as Lee Barnard and Noel Day arrived in Pretoria and would play vital roles in the rise of Northerns cricket. The other major acquisition was that of former New Zealand captain John Reid who was put in charge of the team and proved an inspirational figure working in tandem with captain Barnard.

The move to Centurion Park – the name was chosen after a Name The Ground Competition – happened from 1984/85 and it is the only cricket ground in the world to have given its name to the suburb that sprung up around it. The first match was played on November 15, 1986.

The 1980s was the decade when the rise of Northerns cricket really began and in 1984/85 they played in two of the three domestic finals. They beat Western Province for the first time in the Currie Cup semi-final, thanks to Mandy Yachad’s century and Eric Simons taking seven wickets and scoring a crucial 58.

The elusive first A Section trophy would only come in 1996/97 however, the same year the NTCU became the Northerns Cricket Union, when 59 years of waiting ended with Keith Medlycott and Mark Davis steering them to the Standard Bank League title, Mike Rindel breaking the record for the most number of runs in a season in the day/night competition and Rudi Bryson spearheading the attack.

Limited-overs cricket continued to be the main source of success for Northerns and the Titans franchise as they became known in 2004, with the team winning the 1998/99 Standard Bank League, the Pro20/T20 competition in 2004/05, 2007/08 and 2011/12, and the one-day competition in 2007/08, 2008/09 and 2013/14.

The Titans have won the four-day competition four times – in 2005/06, 2006/07, 2008/09 and 2011/12 .

The Northerns Cricket Union has become a place where the different language groups and races of South Africa pull together for the success of the team, and no franchise won more trophies than the Titans between 2004 and 2014.

This has obviously led to many players from the Pretoria region being selected for the national team and the likes of Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Morne Morkel and Paul Harris have been integral to the rise of the Proteas to the number one Test side.

Off the field, the calm, visionary leadership of people like Basson, Alan Jordaan, Richard Harrison, Brandon Foot, Vincent Sinovich, Elise Lombard, Jesse Chellan, and now Jacques Faul, Patricia Kambarami and John Wright has been crucial to the success of the Northerns and Titans teams.


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