Young talents most needed for S. African soccer future
Soccer in South Africa backdates to Aug. 23, 1862, with a match between soldiers of the British battalion and employees of the colonial administration, including John X Merriman who later became prime minister of the Southern colony Colony. Since that time through apartheid international football in South Africa remained for the whites only
“Catch them young and mold them big”, these are the words of wisdom from South Africa Apartheid era soccer legend Zachariah Lamola who has devoted his lifetime to volunteer armature soccer training in Soweto.
Soweto is South Africa’s oldest township South East of Johannesburg with a population of approximately 3.8 million.
Zachariah, 60, affectionately known in his yore days as “The Computer” because “I was able to calculate the game and could read the situation to beat the enemy” spends most of his daytime in the streets of Soweto spotting best talents. He then drags them to bare grounds in Diepkloof and Orlando for organised training till nightfall.
Zachariah who started playing soccer in the streets of Soweto 44 years back says the world cup games in South Africa turned Soweto to a soccer crazy township. Kids are molding plastic bags into soccer balls setting on teams in alleys, streets and on every open space. They are competing from a very tender age of 5 years.
“Before the world cup the spirit of soccer was low in Soweto, you couldn’t see kids kicking ball out there. The world cup came to revive the spirit of soccer among our little ones,” Zachariah told ziarra. “I want to peruse the momentum before it drops,” he added.
“I want them to go far with soccer,” thus stated Zachariah who is currently training 40 under 12, 14 and 16 boys in Diepkloof and Orlando plus 30 disadvantaged kids some of them street kids in down town Johannesburg.
“I don’t care about there background what I see is South Africa’s lost talent, talent being neglected. And I am there to bridge the gap and mentor them to the right direction,” Zachariah told ziarra.
When Ziarra correspondent visited the former apartheid player soon before training Friday evening in down town Johannesburg, as he opened the door of his car one could not tell whether he was a story teller or soccer tutor. Kids were all over his body. Talk with him during training session was a waste of time. Kids kept screaming from all directions “Coach, coach! Coach look! Coach look my pass, look I can do it”
“The best way of destroying the nation is neglecting its youth. If they are trained young it means the country has a bright future,” Zachariah said. “I have been in many countries, South Africa has the best young talents not utilized. I tell you guys like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi they are nothing compared to what we have in this nation. It’ s like a seed on the bad soil.”
Zachariah who player number eight during the first national official multi-racial soccer team that thrashed the all star Argentina team 5-0 at Rand stadium few weeks before the 1976 Soweto youth upraising believe the township can generate unsurpassed national players in the next ten years if government intervene at amateur level.
“Soweto is recognised international. Soweto is a country on its own. We need government support in Soweto on grassroots level. We are practicing on bump stone grounds, grounds without flood lights. Best facilities must be brought to Soweto, brought closer to people not far there to the up-markets areas,” said former South Africa Premier top team, Kaizer Chiefs midfielder.
“We call on the government not to focus on PSL and world cups alone but also on grass roots soccer which is the backbone of football in the country.” he added.
Zachariah, the father of four who played in the early 1970s alongside stars like Patson Banda “The Black Cat”, Matsilela Ephraim “the Black Prince”, Ephraim Mashaba ‘Shakes’ and Rodney Kitchin says apartheid soccer stars are critical assets to soccer development but taken as liability.
“Former players are important assets to the nation. They can plough back wisdom and experience. They are coming out to be used to the fullest for the good of the nation but those in authority are saying you guys are over bye-bye,” said the Soweto soccer hero who recently referred Nakhone Bude 17 and Tebogo Mhlongo the Football School of Excellence.
According to “The Computer” in order to return best goalkeepers like “The Black Cat” and strikers like “Black Prince” South Africa must go back to the roots and maintain its identity by dedicating more time to townships players.
“We have lost our identity in football we are now copycats of other people. Our style is not inferior but unique we must build than ignore it. This can only be achieve by honoring and supporting old players to meet with coachers, players and soccer administrators,” said Zachariah who is fully behind the appointment of Pitso Mosimane as national soccer team coach.