Sunday, 5 June 2011

We Speak No Americano

So here we are again, another month or so down the line and its time for another update of the Drakenstein Hope Academy. I'll try and keep it a bit shorter and sweeter this time (and with some more pics...everyone loves pics). The major news this month has been that the league that we were playing in has pulled out due to financial issues. Problems started to come about after the Easter holidays where we had two back to back games cancelled on the day of the match. We later found out that both teams had been ready to go, but never left due to lack of money for transport, which turned out to be around R80 per player (about £7), which is obviously quite expensive for a community team. So before we really had the chance to suggest pulling out ourselves, the league made that decision for us. Obviously this is a bit of a shame because the league committed themselves to our team at the start of the season knowing what was needed to play games in the prison, and also it leaves our players without anything to play for this season in the terms of silverware. But we're viewing this as a blessing in disguise, as it means that the organisation of games is now in our hands, which means that we are freed up to play games, albeit friendly games, that are going to be more challenging to the team. For example, just last week we had two very tough games against very different but equally challenging opponents. 

On Tuesday 24th May we played a match against the soccer team of the American university Monmouth, based in New Jersey, who were on a spring tour of South Africa. This team are supposedly the 4th best university team in America, and last year had 2 players drafted into the MLS, the same league that David Beckham plays in, so naturally it was going to be a tough game, probably the toughest of the year so far. So, after a talk from the head of the section, a tour of the cell and a pre-match singing performance from the boys (which somehow eventually included me as well), we kicked off on the plush top field (quite a privilege actually, as we usually play on the bottom field).  Due to the fact that there was a bit of a rush to get the game started, we didn't have time to warm up or even have much of a team talk, and it showed on the pitch. The Americans were prepared and we weren't, and they hit us hard from the off. We could see from the touchline that the attitudes weren't right with our players, as they were getting easily frustrated and started to blame each other when they made mistakes. At half-time we were 2-0 down, and after a bit of a drubbing the players came out and gave it their all in the second half. Although the score remained 2-0 until the final whistle, I think we were probably even the better team in the second half which was an encouraging turn around. For me this was one of the best games of the season, not because of the result, but because of what we were able to take out of the game. The Americans were particularly good at the long ball, at set pieces and in their general physicalness, all three areas that we were lacking in as a team, so it gives us something to work on in training. We also reminded the boys that these guys train 5 times a week, have great facilities and personnel around them like a physio and nutritionist, and had players go pro last year, so there was no shame in losing 2-0 at all. In fact we can take a lot of pride from the game as, like I said, at moments in the game we were definitely going toe-to-toe with them. Also, Monmouth donated their playing kit to the academy, which was a right little touch. There is a summary of the game on the university website at

 Team photo after the game against Monmouth University...can you spot Coach Mikey?
Check out the Video Blog of the Monmouth guy's experience of Drakenstein Hope Academy at

On the Saturday of the same week we played Jozi Strikers, another challenging opponent from Phillipi in Cape Town and who play in the fourth tier of South African football. The game was a similar story to the game on Tuesday, we went 2-0 down and our heads went down a bit again, but this time the attitudes were definitely better, with some good support and banter from the sidelines, and the score finished 2-1. For me, these games were exactly what the team needed, as we were smashing teams in the league and getting far too complacent, so this gave us a good challenge technically and mentally. It is only by getting tested as a team that we will get stronger, so I'm not getting worried. But there's a lot of chat in the prison at the moment because we lost 2 games in a row (which is unusual for the academy) and obviously the boys aren't too happy about it. They can respond in two ways, either let it get to them and show their frustration on the pitch, or apply what they've learnt from the losses and come back stronger. We keep telling the boys that for us its not even necessarily about winning or losing, its more about the way you win or lose, and being able to feel satisfied in your performance knowing that you've given everything, despite the result. Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how they respond.

In other news, we have finally got the guys in from Hawequa prison who trialed for us back in March. They are Jason (LB), Mbuleo (CM), Siphillile (CM) and Jeremy (CF), and they all seem to have settled into the team well. They're all good players and they're all getting game time, but funnily enough the guy who we thought was the weakest in the trial is now the guy who's getting most starts, Jeremy at left-back. It just goes to show the slight flaw in doing one-day trials in that some good players don't impress on the day while other weaker players over-perform due to their motivation to get into the team.

Anyway, another good bit of news is that our captain, Zola Goboza (picture below), is being released on parole on the 30th June. Zola has been in the academy since 2008 and certainly leads by example as a captain. He has gained many qualifications since being in the academy, and is currently studying tourism management through Oxbridge, for which he got his first results this week (78% in the marketing module). From speaking to him he has told me about his desire to work as a tour guide in the townships, but also more generally about how he wants to give back to his community by working in local projects and speaking to the youth in his area about the wrongs of crime. Zola is a very focused person, and is determined to make a positive impact in his community when he gets out. He's also a quality player, and has said he is keen to get a Hope Academy team going outside, which would be a great way for all of us to meet up more regularly and check everyone's progress.

Mezza, the guy in the middle with the stupid hat, and Zola, on the right, both come from Guguletu and are good friends. Mezza was in the Hope Academy and after being released now works in the McDonalds round the corner from me in Obz. Mezza comes in to the prison with us a lot which is great, and also plays for Joburg Strikers who beat us 2-1 last saturday. Zola is getting released at the end of June, and looks very promising to be doing some great things in his communtiy in the future.

We're still getting lots of visitors into the programme, which is great. I don't think I mentioned John Armogam's visit back in March, but...well I will now. John plays professionally for Vasco Da Gama, a team based in Parow in Cape Town who currently play in the PSL (premiership of South African football). Vasco got promoted to the PSL last year and boast former Bafana Bafana internationals Bradley August and Sibusiso Zuma in their roster, as well as being the place where former Charlton player Shaun Bartlett learnt his trade. John plays centre forward and came to know Ambassadors through Bruce, I think, who was doing some bible studies with him and some other local pro players. When offered the chance to come and see the programme, and speak and train with the boys John jumped at it. It was great to hear John talk with the boys about his experience as a pro player and the challenges it brings, as well as talking about his faith, and naturally all of the guys were hyped up and asking lots of questions. Last year, around this time, we had Ajax Cape Town (another PSL club) come in and play the academy (which ended 1-0 to Ajax, not a bad result at all), so who knows after John's visit, we might get Vasco in for a cheeky game.
This is from when John Armogam visited the prison back in March, and chatted and trained with the guys. Hopefully we can get his team Vasco Da Gama to come in and have a friendly game when their season ends.

Also, back in February we had a representative from Beyond Sport (a global organisation that promotes sports for social change) visit the prison, as the Soweto Hope Academy has been shortlisted as a nominee for the Corporate of Year award at the Beyond Sport Summit in Cape Town in December (, and you can read their report at As well, last month Global Giving (an organisation that runs an online database of projects around the world that people can donate to) sent two representatives from the US to check out the academy, and you can read their report (and also donate directly to the academy if you feel so inclined) at

We have also started doing our life skills sessions in the cell before training, which is great as the academy aims to do all sorts of training with the guys, not just football. The program that we are on at the moment is called 'Fit for Life', which has been adapted by AIS, and deals with 10 different topics such as money and relationships and relates it to football and biblical principles. The one we did this week was on money, and it was good to see everyone being open and honest about the issues, with most of the boys admitting that one of the reasons they were there in the first place was due to the love of money.

 This is the football cell in the sports academy section of the prison where our boys are. As you can see the beds are well made and presented, everything is neat and tidy, and there are loads of pics on the wall. 
In terms of ex-academy boys that are out of prison, news is generally very good. Andile Sehole, who was released in April, has gotten a job at KFC, and Chris Ntese, who I've spoken about before, has been promoted to the front at KFC and has also been touted for management training after just a couple of months working there which is great. Just recently we took Chris and Mezza along with us to run a soccer fun day at a local school so that they could coach the kids and talk about crime, so its great to see them giving back to the community as  well. Unfortunately, the guy Andre who I spoke about last time that we've been visiting in Lavender Hill is not doing so great and really needs to be working. He is definitely someone that I think would benefit playing for a graduate Hope Academy team, as it would give some structure and allow people like Chris and Zola to lift him up, so hopefully we can sort something out along those lines.
Chris Ntese, the guy on the left, and Andile Sehole, far right, both work in the same KFC and are doing really well since their release earlier this year.

In other more general Ambassadors news, we recently had a staff orientation about the vision and future of Hope Academies in Africa and how everyone fits in. At the moment there are two official Hope Academies, one in Soweto and our one in Drakenstein, with the Soweto academy acting as a prototype for future academies (as the prison academy is more specialist). 2011 is sort of a transition year to get all the resources and training in place, but the hope is that more academies will be launched in places in South Africa such as Durban and Mamelodi, as well as other African nations. It was good to get together and talk about how the whole AIS Cape Town team can work better together, as currently there are two different streams of work, with me and Bully working in the Hope Academy in the prison, and Bruce and Dave working at African Soccer Development (ASD) in Cape Town and applying Hope Academy principles there, with Mark acting as the Director of the Cape Town office. ASD is a youth academy based in Claremont in Cape Town, and have been called the Barcelona of soccer development in South Africa. Its pretty exciting times over there at the moment as the under 19s recently came second in the national U19 tournament and also just came back from a tour of Belgium where they beat Anderlect U19s, with four players getting contract offers to play in Belguim after the tour. Dave and Bruce are also currently running a TREC course to train all the boys in coaching so that they can have the ability to give back to their communities in football coaching. Anyway, the hope is that both the Drakenstein Hope Academy and ASD can commit times to each other, with the possibility of a game against the U19s in the prison some time soon, which would be great.

These are the 4 ASD guys who've gotten pro contracts with Belgium clubs. Read the report here:

Away from work things have been pretty chilled, no real touristy things to report about. Although saying that, I did my first bit of wine tasting the other day on the way back from the prison, as that area is part of the winelands where famous South African wines are made. To be honest I see myself as more of a cheese conessouir than a wine connessiour, so I did enjoy the cheese tasting bit more than the wine bit (although I was well hungry). I'm defintely more of a beer man, so when the woman pouring the vino was looking at me for approval I couldn't think of anything to say but “mmm...yeah, that's smooth”, every time...I'm like yeah I know what's not a doff (means idiot in afrikaans...its a good word). Talking of Afrikaans I had my first potjie (pronounced poykie) the other night, which means little pot, and is basically where you get a bunch of mates round, get a braai fire going and then stick a pot on it and cook up a load of different meats and vegetables in it. Honestly though, its probably one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten because all the juices and spices just mix together, but essentially its just making a stew on a bbq. Its not something I've ever seen people do back home, but its brilliant so I'm gonna try and buy one of these pots to take back and introduce the craze to England.

The only other major thing that happened recently was that my blackberry got know "when in South Africa" and all that ;) Na, it could've happened anywhere, but basically someone nicked it out of my bag when I was training for my team Green Point down the road. There was some randomer there at training that night who played with us and hasn't been back since so we all reckon it was probably him. The whole thing did challenge me a bit though, because I was well angry at this anonymous fella, but then when I thought about it these guys in Drakenstein Correctional, who I'm working with and have a good laugh with, have all done far worse crimes than what this guy did to me. By being a victim of this petty crime it just reminded me that there are still people out there who are extremely torn up and damaged by what these boys have done. But its hard for me to see that when the guys are doing so well in the programme, and I think that's the point; that while some people can only see the bad in these prisoners because they are their victims, I am mainly seeing the good in them through how they are working in the academy. So then I thought, well even though this guy was a bit of a douche for taking my phone, its more than likely that since that day he has done something good, whether its for his family, for his friends or whatever. It got me thinking that people always have the ability to change, even hardened criminals; and that's the amazing thing about positive change is that people can go from gangsterism and murder and rape to becoming driven leaders in their communities and teachers for the next generation. But obviously it comes down to the person, so this whole thing has just made me even more motivated to challenge and help these guys in prison in whatever way I can, so that they can continue to make positive changes in their lives.

So that'll do for now...arrrrrg, I said it was going to be shorter this time, oh well if you're still reading this then well done to you ;) Check out my FB page for more photos and stuff on the Hope Academy. Also, watch this space, because I'm going to start doing some player profiles on here so that you get a better of understanding of who we've got in the programme. 


1 Cor. 9:24-27