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Life with a ball at my feet

Lavender Hill Football Club (LHFC) was established in 2018, born of a family club called Islanders FC. Islanders only had an under-12 and under-14 division, but with the creation of LHFC, eight teams across the ages groups Under-8 to Under-18, as well as a 1st Division team, were up and running. This remarkable growth of the club happened in a community riddled with drugs, gang wars and extreme poverty.

The kids registered by the dozen and today, LHFC is almost 300 male players strong with 100 more hoping to register when we have space and kit for more. We’re also proud to also nurture 100 girls in our soccer club as well as many more in our netball club. For those looking for something different to team sports, we also started a Ballet & Dance School in 2019, with 17 aspiring ballerinas and more than 60 registered dancers.

At the start the club had no resources: no kit, equipment, training facilities or transport to take our players to the sports matches and tournaments outside the community. Our main foes are a lack of safe space and gang and turf wars in the five zones in the Lavender Hill community, dominated by five different gangs.

Ralph set up sewing machines in his house for local seamstress mothers to make the first sports kits for the teams. Most players had to play without boots, or in torn sneakers, until our generous sponsor and friend, Kevin Davenport, shipped approximately 200 pairs of pre-loved boots from the UK. Kevin organised collections of pre-owned soccer boots, netball and ballet kits and has sent, and continues to send, hundreds of items from the UK to Lavender Hill to help the kids to enjoy the same access to sport that the British children already have.

Despite the club’s lack of resources, we have achieved great things. LHFC was promoted to the Premier League in our debut season in the South Peninsula Football League. We’re proud to boast our Premier Division status as league champions, as well as Under-16 knockout champions. The greatest achievement was the 2019 Sport Awards. Rising star Sudrudeen Langenhoven scored a hat trick in August 2019. He was the LHFC U08 team Silver medallist 2018 at Rygersdal FC Junior Tournament.

As the clubs, both netball and soccer and the dance school grew, hidden talents were revealed, a sense of unity was created and we celebrated and recognised player’s birthdays with cake and celebrations. We have also developed internal Club awards to be given each year. Amongst the soccer awards like Top Scorer and Best Player, we had the Davenport Award for Leadership. There is also the CAFDA Spirit Award for Motivation and Best Team Player, as well as the Lion Award for most improved player, against the odds.

The strong management and coaching team are the strength behind our success. A small but dedicated team helps the players improve both on and off the pitch. Chairman Mark Nicholson works closely with co-owners Ruben Bruintjies and Hilton Ludick, supported by coaches Rafiek Isaacs and Clifton Davids.

Mark Nicholson, Chairman LHFC says, “Since last year, LHFC has grown wonderfully, with many kids interested in joining the club. It’s been an amazing journey, although tiring too. It’s not always about the football but about the executive of the club interacting with the kids and getting to know what’s happening at home and school. Many of our children come from broken homes and are subject to much struggle. When we sit down with them and they open up to us, it gives a clearer understanding about what we want for the club and for the children.’

‘With the prospect of the Rise Above Centre we will be able to have one-on-ones with each child. The facilities will be in place, making it easier to help them become happier children who will benefit greatly from such programs. The kids are happy and excited about the club and where we are going to. Our longboard skater girls are also very happy and sports-minded. The club activities help the kids focus better on school work.”

“Everyone within our area now knows LHFC is a force to be reckoned with - it’s wonderful that the word is getting out there that we’re building a community of sports families on and off the field. Once the facility is built, we can’t wait to work closely with the children and their parents to nurture their talents and guide them towards a brighter future.”

Manager and Co-owner, Hilton Ludick agrees, “Soccer is more than just a game - it’s an agent for change! Bringing about social change can require nothing more than a round ball and a passion for the game. This is a fundamental principle in areas like ours, with limited facilities or programs to cater for youth development. Soccer has the ability to unite people and, for these young people, it’s their way out of poverty and gangsterism in a drug-infested area. We have seen the kids grow and mature into fine young men - in contrast to when they joined the team.”

“Many of the boys were unhealthy, overweight, undisciplined, fighting, cursing, smoking drugs, drinking, partying and sleeping out weekends. This was almost second nature to them, as that is what they had been exposed to all their lives. Soccer has reshaped and polished them, soccer has embedded principles, integrity, respect for themselves and others, being punctual, discipline, how to fall, bleed, and still get back up. Playing the game also teaches the kids how to control their temper when they get knocked out unfairly - a lesson which they adopted on and off the field.”

“They learn that in real life there is not a referee who blows a whistle when things are unfair and there is no free kick nor ticket for them. They learn that changing their lifestyle off the field is the key to success. I’d like to make special mention of star players, 16-year-old Imtiyaaz Ruiters, and his teammate, Tristan Hollander. Both were selected to play in the Alicante Cup - Espana- in Spain in June 2020, now postponed due to COVID-19. We hope the games will be rescheduled and wish these terrific players all the best.”

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