Perlman’s dreams score for kids before World Cup

2009-08-27 12:17

MANY will remember John Perlman as the erstwhile English soccer commentator

on the public broadcaster, the SABC; others for his hard-hitting interviews on

SAFM and his insightful column in the Saturday Star.

The Kaya FM current affairs show presenter has followed the urging of the

late American president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who told his countrymen to ask

not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their

country.

With the World Cup coming to South Africa next June, Perlman dreamt of a way

to contribute to the development of the beautiful game in the country.

And this is how the Dreamfields Soccer Project came about.

It is a chilly Saturday morning as photographer Yandisa Monakali and I make

our way to the Oli-fantsfontein sports grounds near the Ekurhuleni (formerly

East Rand) township of Tembisa.

A band is already playing some sweet melodies – as if to welcome spring – as

we arrive.

As the music fades away, the only noise that can be heard comes from the

soccer fields, where young school children from Tembisa are engaged in what the

legendary Pele long ago dubbed “The Beautiful Game”.

Among them is a short man who is almost their height but much older, holding

a camera and a notebook.

He greets us with a smile. This is Perlman.

“Back in 2007 I felt that I did not want to be directly involved with the

World Cup (2010) as a journalist or as a participant. I wanted to do something

different,” he recalls. “That was when I came up with the idea to start the

project.”

Into its second year, Perlman and his team already have something to brag

about.

Through the project they have built eight soccer grounds, organised 54

tournaments and donated playing equipment amounting to 752 sets to different

communities countrywide.

“We have built grounds in Gopane, a village outside Zeerust (North West); in

Venda (Limpopo); Driekoppies (Mpumalanga); Richards Bay (KwaZulu-Natal); and one

near Mogale City (Gauteng),” he tells City Press.

Mining giant BHP Billiton and insurance company Old Mutual have played

sterling roles in keeping the project going.

“Our total investment in the communities stands at R12 million. BHP and Old

Mutual have helped us a lot. But there are other companies that have also come

on board and helped us achieve our goals. We are quite thankful,” he said.

Former Kaizer Chiefs’ goal-poacher Shane McGregor, who works for Umbro, is

also part of the project as his company gives soccer boots to the children.

“This is good for us. We are having fun together and our school gets a sports

bag loaded with all the equipment we need,” Thabo Themba, a Grade 6 learner from

Welamlambo, tells us.

McGregor adds: “John and his team are doing a fantastic job. Children now

feel they are part of the events leading to the World Cup. I am happy to be here

and involved.”

There is no cash going to the participating schools, but the sports bags they

get are worth their while.

Coaches also enjoy it.

“It is not about money, but children having fun,” says Welamlambo coach

Robert Nake.

“This is great help for the disadvantaged. John and his team have done a

marvellous job by providing soccer kit and by building and upgrading soccer

fields.”

Perlman says that despite all the accolades he is getting now, it has not

always been plain sailing.

“Doing this is not easy. If it was easy somebody would have done it a long

time ago. We made our mistakes here and there, but overall I think we have done

well,” he says with confidence.

Similar projects have been initiated in the past but floundered as they were

left up to the communities. Perlman, however, maintains they are cautious about

this and try to fit into already existing systems and to ensure continuity.

“We look to carry this project beyond the World Cup. Our objective is to

re-ignite soccer as a school sport and we will continue doing that even after

the tournament,” he said.

Projections are that Dreamfields will have covered 1 000 schools, organised

100 tournaments and built 30 soccer fields by the time the 2010 World Cup

arrives.


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