It’s often quite strange how seemingly unrelated lives are in fact destined to become connected.
Such are the mysteries of human contact – and I was privileged to witness one such connection during the official launch of the Ajax Cape Town Lambda Institute at the club’s grounds in Parow last Friday.
Back in 1999, after the amalgamation of Cape Town Spurs and Seven Stars led to the formation of Ajax Cape Town, the Dutch partners Ajax Amsterdam arrived to face the new Cape club in a friendly at the old Green Point Stadium.
In goal for Ajax Amsterdam on that day was Edwin van der Sar.
He would go on to play for Juventus and Fulham before finding fame in the Manchester United number one jersey.
For all his travels and success, somehow or other the South African connection would always find a way to stick – Van der Sar played with Benni McCarthy at Ajax Amsterdam, and he played against Steven Pienaar in the English Premiership.
Now, as the chief executive of the famous Dutch club, the connection is complete – and back in the Mother City last week, it was evident that Van der Sar was blown away by Ajax Cape Town’s new initiative.
The Lambda Institute is not just another football academy – it is more than that. It is a football school.
The Cape club’s chief executive Ari Efstathiou says that with so many academies springing up all over the country, they wanted to do something different, something new, to remain a step ahead of their imitators.
They pitched the idea to Van der Sar and the board at Ajax Amsterdam; after thinking it over for a while, the Dutch got behind the project with financial support, and the Lambda Institute was completed in the space of just seven months.
Lambda is the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet, symbolising the 11 players that make up a football team. Only the very best kids between the ages of 14-18 enter the school; aspirant players have to undergo a rigorous selection process before being accepted.
The kids are then housed, fed, educated and trained on the premises.
They spend seven days a week at the Institute, where the programme caters for the holistic development of the players, including education, leadership, social awareness, mental preparedness, proper nutrition, financial planning and, of course, the all-important training with regard to the technical and tactical aspects of football.
All in all, it was a really powerful launch event, with PSL chairman Irvin Khoza’s nuggets of wisdom a special treat on the day.
The mantra he drummed into the youngsters was that work ethic is a learned behaviour, as he emphasised to the young players that talent is not enough to succeed.
But for me, Khoza’s most important message is something that should be directed at our entire country: “The greatest respect you can show to a child is to see him.”
In a world in which children are so often neglected and mistreated, Khoza’s words resounded with meaning and appreciation.
And that wasn’t all. Because when, as Khoza says, we “see” children, their confidence grows, they blossom, they grow, and they take full advantage of the opportunity to realise their potential.
This is at the heart of the work and vision of the Lambda Institute.
It was aptly summed up when the head of the school – my former Santos teammate Duncan Crowie – called up one of the players to read a poem he had written as part of a school assignment, called My Contribution To My People:
“See where I come from, it’s not a decent place,
They had us sent away, because of our race,
But I will be my own ghetto hero,
Because I will give back to my people, who have zero.
I will strive to do my best, and give my community success,
I will give my people opportunity, so society can live in unity,
I am BONGOLWETHU SIYASI,
a Khayelitsha boy, who believes in my people, they will spread joy.”
Siyasi’s naked honesty and moving words captured the audience, including a visibly moved Van der Sar, proving that the primary objective of the Lambda Institute is not just to produce great footballers, but more importantly, to shape individuals of character – fully-rounded men who can go on to contribute positively to the community at large, and society in general.@Reinerss11