SOME of Cape Town’s young soccer enthusiasts will one day boast of the day they shared the Athlone Stadium with some of the most well-paid professional players of the English Premier League.
Yesterday, a group of more than 200 pupils from various schools across the region – Mitchells Plain to Atlantis, Goodwood to Athlone – dribbled, kicked or tackled soccer balls with a delegation of rising stars from the English Premier League at a coaching clinic at the stadium.
Sixteen teams from the Premier League nominated its best young players, considered to be the young stars of tomorrow, who have passed through the England Premier League academy with coaching and referee qualifications.
The team came to Cape Town to teach aspiring young players on how football is being used to uplift the youth.
Nathan Ake, a Chelsea youth team player, who could potentially be the next Didier Drogba, spent a few hours guiding young local soccer players.
Ake, 17, whose host team Chelsea Football Club won the Champions League trophy, led a delegation of 16 players who form part of the Skillshare International PSL Scholar Study Tour.
Ake, who is from Holland, said that as a young player teaching school pupils he understood the importance of his role here.
“It’s very important to meet young players and for us to see the conditions they play in because in England and in Holland we play in good environments, but here they play on the pavements. In England, it’s very different so for me it was a good experience,” he said.
The team has also visited projects in Khayelitsha, Masiphumelele/ Ocean View, Langa and Mitchells Plain.
Martin Heather, head of education for the Premier League, said it was part of the academy’s education on and off the pitch to produce players “who are also good people”.
He said the players had received a warm welcome in the areas they had visited.
“They were also in areas with poverty levels they are not used to and we thought it would be difficult for them to relate, but they had time to reflect on their experience and we hope that they can relay that experience when they go back home,” said Heather.
The city has added several development projects to its calendar to further its youth development programmes, using sport to engage young people, teach life skills and encourage the youth to stay educated and entertained.
Councillor Tandeka Gqada, mayoral committee member for community services, said: “While we have the facilities, we need partners to bring skills and support the same objectives. That is the development of the sport.”
Cape Town is gearing up for the 8 Nations U20 International Football Challenge 2012, set to kick off on Friday and which will run until Sunday, June 3, and the IRB U20 Rugby World Cup.
Gqada said it was important to “expose our youth to young role models”, and that the tournament would provide an ideal platform for young people to see what participation and discipline in sport could achieve.