Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Player Profile: Thulani (a.k.a Serrero / The Boiler Room)

Name: Thulani
D.O.B: 30/03/1987
Position: Centre Mid
Personal Description: I'm from Kuilsrivier in Cape Town. I live with my mother, 2 brothers, 1 sister and my step-dad. I also have a little boy called Sesona who is 4 years old. I like reading and watching cricket.
Favourite Player: Xavi
When did you join the academy?: 2010
What do you want to do in the future?: To further my studies in theology and sports management, which could help me to do sports ministry in the community.
What have you learnt in the Academy so far?: 
  • About life skills, about leadership and Jesus Christ.
  • About not being selfish, and putting others first
  • Being slow to speak and quick to listen
  • Patience and perseverance 

Thulani arrived at the Drakenstein Hope Academy in March 2010 after being transferred from Pollsmoor prison when he was spotted at the Hope Academy trial there. The way he got to Drakenstein is a story in itself however. Supposedly some of the guards where Thulani was being held at Pollsmoor made up a story about him to AIS that he was heavily involved in gangsterism and was a poorly behaved inmate so that he wouldn't be accepted into the academy. According to Thulani this was done because the guards wanted to keep him in the band in his section, but he kept on pushing the DCS at the prison to get him into the academy and in the end he was the only one out of 4 guys from Pollsmoor who made it into the academy that year. 

When he first arrived, Thulani said his focus was completely on football but that he was encouraged by Coach Mark to focus on all aspects of the programme, which meant looking at the faith and future side of things as well. After this he started to work on getting better grades at his matric and he said it didn't take long before he accepted Christ into his life because he couldn't ignore how God had worked in his life to get him to Drakenstein. Thulani says that before he came to prison he had passed his matric and was playing football for Vasco Da Gama reserves but that he didn't have God in his life and he felt that he had no vision. After making a commitment in Drakenstein he now feels that he has found a new vision and a new life, and he can see God working through him already as he has gotten closer to his mother since being inside. 
Thulani with his little sister on Family Day in November last year

Thulani's came to prison in 2008, and although he maintains that he is innocent, he says that he is glad that he came inside as it meant that he found God and became a better person through the programme, and also improved his level of education. He is due to see parole next year and he has a 4 year old son, Sesona, waiting for him outside. He says that he wants to obey God as he as shown him grace and mercy, and he feels confident that God has a plan for him when he gets outside. 
Thulani (captain) and Sinethemba (coach) discussing tactics in the room

Thulani has only been in the academy for just over a year, but has already shown himself to be one of the leaders in the cell, so much so that after Zola was released last month we gave Thulani the armband. Being the captain of the side doesn't just mean leading the team on match day, but its also about leading the whole cell in day to day activities, so it is a responsibility not given out lightly. Thulani had been vice-captain since the start of the year, shadowing Zola and assisiting him in organising the room, and in that time he proved to us that he was the right candidate to lead the boys after Zola left. He shows great wisdom in the way he acts and is also full of passion on and off the field, so I'm sure he will bring his own flavour to the leadership role left by Z. Since he has become captain, Thulani has introduced a daily morning meeting called 'Thought for the Day', where anyone can share a word of encouragement from something they've heard, or read or watched, which we thought was a great idea. Recently we have had a few issues on unity in the room which has been a challenge, but one of the good things that has come out of recent team meetings is that no-one has a problem with Thulani and that he is very approachable and easy to talk to, which is another sign of a great leader.
Thulani and Zola at Family Day last year

Thules also leads by example on the football pitch and in his attitude during training. He is one of the fittest guys on the team which shows his discipline and commitment during fitness sessions, and when he is playing he doesn't stop running until the final whistle. I noticed the other day that every time we leave the prison Thulani always seems to be the most tired, which shows that he puts it in every time we go out. His workrate is so noticable that Coach Bull has given him the nickname 'The Boiler Room', which seems to have caught on. Currently we're playing him in a defensive midfield position, which is where he is most comfortable, and he's doing a great job mopping up the loose balls in midfield and calmly playing the ball out from the centre. He needs to work a bit on releasing the ball quicker, but technically he is very sound. In front of goal he's not the most prolific of players, but when he does score it always seems to be with his head, which obviosuly has become the focus of much banter so that if he misses we'll be like 'you should've gone with your head mate'. That's the other good thing about Thulani is that he doesn't take himself too seriously, and he's always up for a laugh. The other week I was teaching him how to do an English accent and later in the day he comes up to me and goes 'alright mate' in the most ridiculous accent...honestly one of the funniest moments this year.

Anyway, we've all got high hopes for Thulani at Ambassadors, and at the moment he is certainly going about things in the right way.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Player Profile: Zola

Name: Zola

D.O.B: 21/05/1985

Position: Centre Mid

Personal Description: I grew up with both of my parents in Philippi, and apart from football I like to further myself in education.

Favourite Player: Xavi

When did you join the academy?: 2008

What do you want to do in the future?: To continue to further my studies in tourism management in the hope to be a township tour-guide, and also to be a positive role model in my community. 

What have you learnt in the Academy so far?:
  • How to be responsible as a man
  • In order to be successful you have to respect those around you and be disciplined
  • That change is possible if you believe

The reason that I start with Zola in these player profiles is twofold. Firstly is that Zola is the captain of the team and one of the longer serving guys in the programme. Secondly is that just two weeks ago Zola was released on parole and is now back in his community of Philippi in Cape Town. The whole of the AIS Cape Town office is very excited to see what Zola is going to do now he is outside, as he is a very focused and driven person, and has a passion for helping the young people in his community not to make the same mistakes that he did. From speaking to Zola in the weeks and months leading up to his release, the thing that he always spoke about was not work or money or other worries like that, but rather about getting the chance to speak in his community and trying to become a positive role model to youngsters in his area through football and other means. To see this hunger and drive to give back to his community so soon after his release is really encouraging, but at the same time nothing less than what we expected from “Z” because we know his character and his heart for helping young people. 
On the wall behind Zola here, you'll see all sorts of different certificates for courses and such. Most of them are Zola's so we call it the "Zola Wall"

As a player, Zola is for sure one of the most talented guys we have in the squad. He likes to play a deepish role in the midfield so that he can control the play going forward and stroke the ball around the park. He has very good passing technique and a rocket of a shot when he wants to unleash it, but he also plays with a kind of flare that can't really be taught, so he'll whack out the feints and the dummies every now and then as well. He has his signature move, which is pretty much a dummy shot or long pass, so he go to strike the ball one way and then drag his foot across the ball and go the other way, and it fools everyone every time. The amount of times he's “nuts'd” (ball through the legs, for those not up on the lingo) me in training is actually quite annoying, so every time I come up against him I'll try and do the same to him but it never works. I guess the player he reminds me of most is Paul Scholes, because he plays with that similar simplicity but with a spark of genius, and he has that rocket shot...and he also usually makes a dodgy tackle in most games so he's definitely like Scholesy.
Zola in action in a free kick drill

For me, though, Zola's biggest talent in the Hope Academy was not as a player, but as a captain and a leader. As soon as I got to know Zola I could see that he was a great leader and well respected in the team. He is quite a quiet guy actually, but he is still very approachable and intelligent, picking his words carefully, so that when he does speak to the team or to the coaches it is always something with substance. He doesn't demand respect at all, but he gets it from the team and from us because he is so humble and willing to sacrifice and work hard for his team-mates. He is very much a servant leader in that sense, and he has a strong faith in God so he is there for guys who wants to speak to him about that. The other great thing about Zola is that he is very honest about the mistakes that he has made, but he is also determined to turn these failings into something positive by using his story to impact the young people in his community by showing them that there are consequences of crime and that change is possible for anyone.

Zola's farewell braai

So, as you can see from the pictures above, the week before he was released we had a braai for Zola, celebrating his service to the Hope Academy and to officially hand over the captaincy to the vice-captain Thulani. Below are some of the things that the boys had to say about Zola (I wrote down what was said about an hour after the event so this is paraphrasing, but still closely captures the words the guys had to say).

Bongani –  I have been with you since the start and I was wondering whether you would take over from Meza (the old captain) in a good way as captain. What I can say is that you did it so well and you set an example for future captains to follow.


Loyiso –  I have never had a male role model in my life. Zola has been the best role model I have ever had and has shown me how to be a man. I would go to him as a shoulder to cry on and share my struggles with him.

Duna –  I don't think you know this, but I want to be like you. You are my role model and I hope I can be just like you.


 Sinethemba Zola, you have led a small group of men in here really well, and I'm sure you will lead many more people when you are outside.


Eddie I have a respect for you that may look like I'm scared. You taught me to be a man and stand strong. I used to be the 'shy guy'', but you have given me the confidence to stand up and speak for myself.


 Mr JonasDon't forget the leader that you have been , and don't forget what you have learnt in the academy. There are many people waiting outside for you with excitement and expectation. You can do great things.


Zola -  I didn't realise what I meant to so many people, I'm really touched. Jonas, keep doing what you do, you have a great heart. Coaches, we really appreciate everything you do, however small, even just talking means so much to the team. 

When I spoke to Zola the day before getting out I asked him how he felt, and I could see that he was starting to well up just from the question. He said to me that he really couldn't describe what he was feeling because there were so many emotions going through his mind. When I asked the boys, some said he was excited, some said he was scared, others said he was quiet and nervous; all understandable emotions when you have spent 7 years in prison. It's something that I can't even begin to imagine, and that's all I could really say to him, that and good luck. About a week after his release we went to see him, partly just to see how he was doing and partly to do some filming as we have had a guy over from the US, Henry, for the past few weeks filming the Hope Academy for a small documentary. So we got to his place and met his parents, and saw his room, which was a little shack out the back which he shares with his brother. Chatting to Zola again, he said he still felt overwhelmed and was just trying to take small steps and not rush into anything too soon, but also that he had already spotted some things that he could start doing in the community. One of the things he wants to do is go back to his old school and speak to the kids there about crime, so hopefully we can help him do that by running a soccer day at the school or something like that.

So, i'll keep updating on Zola's progress and the rest of the guys, and I will try to do one of these player profiles every week / 2 weeks, starting with Thulani, the new captain, next week.