Well I've arrived safely in Cape Town, and already I love the place. Its such a diverse city and the backdrop of Table Mountain is just wow...don't think i'll ever get tired of that view. Its absolutely scorching out here, like 25 degrees + every day, which is brilliant but naturally as an Englishman abroad you have to catch the sun in the first fews days just to prove to yourself it actually exists. Met Adam (Bully) at the airport and he took me straight to meet up with this guy who's just got out of prison and was trialing for Hannover Park FC, who are in the equivalent of the Championship (but really like conference standard on english terms). Thing is though Adam took a wrong turn and we ended up driving through the streets of Hannover which put plainly aint the nicest of areas, and he was all like "yeah, dont drive through here at night", haha bit of a ledge.
So, met up with this lad at the training ground and met some of the staff from Ambassadors, then went back to the place that i'll be staying at until I find something more permanent. I'm staying with Bruce and Louise and their daughter, the house is great and the food has been proper lekka (quality)...learning the lingo already. Also met Dave that night who i've been in communicado with from the start and who fronts up the coaching for the academy boys amongst other things. Pretty much ko'd that night cos it'd been a long old journey. Friday morning got up early and went with Dave, Adam and Mark (head of the cape town division) to the prison to meet the boys and have a little kick about/training session. The prison is in Paarl north of Cape Town and is renowed for being the place where Mandela served the last 3 of his 27 years in prison, and is the location of his famously broadcast walk to freedom.There's about 18 lads on the programme and to be honest I was pleasantly suprised at how disciplined the guys were and how respectful they were towards me right from the off. They understand that the programme is a privelage so they don't want to jepordise taking part in it because they enjoy it so much. It seems that most of them genuinely want to change their ways but, as Dave mentioned to me, at the end of the day we can only really find that out once they've been released, which is part of our job.
Anyway after introductions and prayer the boys led the warm up, with an African twist, consisting of a really effective rymthnic stretching routine. Of course, I was all out of sync with the group and looked like a bit of a div trying to keep up with it, but at least the guys got laugh out of it. After a shooting drill we got into a game. Everything started ok considering I hadn't played properly for over 3 months, but the weather in Paarl is even hotter than Cape Town so after 20 minutes I was seriously lagging. It was a close game and the standard was decent, there's some really good players and it seems the guys are fully fit which is great, but in the end two stunning long range efforts from Bully made the difference, with the game ending 6-4. Needless to say I was absolutely done by the end of it. I need to get used to this difference in climate pretty sharpish, so I think a few long runs are in order.
After leaving the prison I went with Dave to see the Cape United academy, which is run by Ambassadors in Cape Town. They've got a really great set up there, and believe me when I say that these lot are amongst the next generation of South African footballers. Cape United are top of the highest league at the highest level of U19 and U17 football, which means they are beating the academies of the PSL (Premier Soccer League - South African Premiership) teams, which includes Ajax Cape Town where Steven Pienaar came through the ranks. The interesting thing is that many of these boys are rejects from PSL academies, which just goes to show how much a stable environment and good football and life coaching can make a real difference. After meeting the guys I went with Bruce to his church at Capricorn, which is connected to the Living Hope Trust, to play futsal with some local kids in the church car park. Apparently this area is one of the worst in Cape Town for unemployment, so the main idea with this is to let the kids enjoy their football and more importantly teach them to keep their heads up and put in 100% when they are playing because we believe if they do that on the pitch they can start to apply that attitude in their lives.
Saturday me and Bully went with the guy who I met on the first day to watch him play for Hannover Park reserves against Vasco Da Gama reserves. Hannover Park is actually run by two of the Ambassadors staff, head coach Andre who's from Cape Town and assistant coach Morgan who's American and used to play in goals for Ajax Cape Town until he retired to pursue coaching. Vasco Da Gama are a PSL team about mid-table and their training ground is right opposite the Ajax Cape Town training ground, which is a real high level centre with 3G pitches and a club shop, the full works, compared to Vasco which is simply a pitch surrounded by a few wooden stands. Its like Blackpool living right opposite to Man Utd, but as we saw last week with those 2 teams it doesn't always matter how much money is flowing through the club, football is football, and these supposedly "small clubs" can still succeed at the highest level if they play for each other and are completely committed, which often takes a legend like Ian Holloway to formulate. Anyway, our man got 10 minutes at the end of extra time and did ok but didn't really get the run of ball, which wasn't his fault, so we'll see whether he gets more training/game time with the club. Rest of today has been spent getting a sim card for my phone so I don't rack up a hench bill, writing this blog and chilling basically. Bruce has lent me a copy of Mandela's autobiography 'Long Walk to Freedom' so i'll probably start that tonight, it's supposed to be a great read. Tommorow will check out Bruce's church again and then possibly a braai (Afrikaans for barbeque) in the afternoon which will be awesome...bit of the old english touch there, any excuse for a braai