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Ken Borland



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?

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-07-30-soccer-the-forgotten-talents-of-the-vaal-professionals/#.V583c_l97IU

Gold keeps faith with ‘special group of players’ 0

Posted on June 09, 2016 by Ken

 

Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold has largely kept faith with the same team that lost to the Lions last weekend for Saturday’s vital SuperRugby clash with the Bulls at Kings Park, calling them a special group of players.

Although the Sharks desperately need a change in fortunes to resuscitate their season, the only changes Gold has made are the returns of Springbok veterans Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira to the front row.

“It’s nice to be able to strengthen our front row because it will be a very tough game up front, but I’m really happy with this team and I’m massively optimistic that if we replicate the effort of last week and rectify a couple of system errors, then we can get the result because this is a special group of players and they are hurting as much as we are,” Gold said after announcing his team in Durban on Thursday.

Gold acknowledged that the defence, which has enjoyed a strong heritage in recent Sharks teams, has been woefully lacking this season.

“We should be proud of our defence, but I’m not happy with it at all, it’s not nearly been good enough and it didn’t improve at all against the Lions. There were system errors, which was very disappointing, and, as the coaching staff, we all take responsibility for that.

“We neglected spending time on that out in the middle, the players didn’t do it over and over again enough, because they were a great defensive unit last year. I guess we have to be like the golfer who hits thousands of seven-irons in practice even though that’s his strength. But I have a lot of faith in this special group of players and I believe we can fix it,” Gold said.

Team: Odwa Ndungane, S’bura Sithole, Waylon Murray, Andre Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, Fred Zeilinga, Cobus Reinach, Renaldo Bothma, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Marco Wentzel, Mouritz Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Franco Marais, Tendai Mtawarira. Bench – Monde Hadebe, Thomas du Toit, Lourens Adriaanse, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Etienne Oosthuizen, Conrad Hoffmann, Lionel Cronje, SP Marais.

Evaluating Coetzee’s first Springbok squad 0

Posted on June 06, 2016 by Ken

 

Speculating on Springbok squads is always one of the more enjoyable aspects of being a rugby writer and I was pleased to read Allister Coetzee said choosing it had been one of the highlights of his career. One of a scribe’s other jobs is to then evaluate the selection, and I’m pleased to say the new coach’s squad makes me largely very happy.

It would be remiss of me, however, not to point out what I believe are a couple of oversights in Coetzee’s first task in his new project.

I will explain the first by asking you, dear reader, to imagine you have been transported forward in time by a week and you are perusing this column on the morning of the opening Test against Ireland. And the shock news has just broken that Pat Lambie injured himself in yesterday’s captain’s run.

This will be a major problem for Coetzee and the Springboks because of the flyhalves he has chosen in his squad. Elton Jantjies has only just resumed training after having surgery on a fractured finger, so he has not had much time to heal or acquaint himself with what the new coach is hoping to do on the field. Garth April is a bright talent, no doubt, but has only made three starts in top-flight rugby and it would be a massive gamble for him to play in a Test match.

So who is going to be the general as South Africa enter a new era against a tough Irish side?

We can look at the other side of the halfback equation, the scrumhalves, but the picture is just as bleak there, with Faf de Klerk and Rudy Paige no doubt players of the future, but vastly inexperienced at the moment when it comes to Test rugby. I have some sympathy for Coetzee when it comes to the dearth of scrumhalves though because he did apparently approach Ruan Pienaar, who turned him down, possibly because of all the abuse he takes from fickle Springbok fans.

Nic Groom also does not inspire much confidence. Against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld recently, the Stormers enjoyed a surfeit of possession, but he was unable to stamp his mark or take control of proceedings against a team that was hammered by the Lions the following week.

With Lambie out, the Springboks could be forced into playing Willie le Roux, who has had no serious rugby with a number 10 on his back, in the pivot position. All this could have been avoided by just naming Morne Steyn as the third flyhalf. It’s too late now because you can’t fly him out from France on the eve of a Test.

The other error, I believe, is in the composition of the loose forwards. They are all fine players with varying skills, but there seems to be, apart from Duane Vermeulen, a lack of a mean and nasty ball-carrier, someone with mongrel who can crash through the advantage line and bounce away anyone trying to get through the Springbok defences.

With Jaco Kriel and Francois Louw surely fighting over the openside flank position, Siya Kolisi is likely to wear the number seven jersey and is a super player, with a tremendous work-rate and great skills, but for me he is more of a hybrid loose forward, good at plenty of things and master of none. As a ball-carrier, he is only ranked 58th in Super Rugby this year, according to the Vodacom stats.

And Coetzee could open himself up to accusations of Stormers bias with his selection of Sikhumbuzo Notshe, another hybrid flank, as well as the likes of Steven Kitshoff, Groom and Scarra Ntubeni, ahead of players like Jean-Luc du Preez and Malcolm Marx.

But overall, it is a pleasing squad with the experience of players like Beast Mtawarira, Eben Etzebeth, JP Pietersen, Vermeulen, Lambie, Le Roux and Louw being combined with some of the exciting talent sweeping through our rugby, and a fine choice of captain in Adriaan Strauss.

And there is the thrilling prospect, looking at some of the selections, of the Springboks playing a more high-tempo, ball-in-hand style of rugby.

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    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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