NELSPRUIT - Being called the owner of the trendsetting Sunflower FC embarrasses Siyabonga Malinga who prefers to be acknowledged as the coach of the club he founded 21 years ago.
“That’s why there’s an executive board to run the team,” Malinga says as he brushes aside his administrative role. But if it wasn’t for his financial gamble, the Hammarsdale side wouldn’t be as big as they are. Sunflower are not only stylish in their appearance, wearing trendy suits, but they are also innovative - in line with Malinga’s dream of them being more than just a football club.
“I used up all my policies to make this team what it is today,” Malinga said. “If you have a passion for something, people tend to allow you to follow that passion. That’s why my family understood why I did what I did by taking all our money here. Their 100% support gave me confidence to make a success of this club. But as the time went on, we got funding from Lotto. They played a big role in us reaching this level. Through their funding we were able to get our apparel, equipment and then fulfil our charity obligations.
The idea is to be more than just a football club. We give children food parcels for themselves and their families, sanitary pads, blankets and cosmetics. We also get funding from an organisation in Belgium for our role in empowering women.”
Malinga formed Sunflower in 1996 as a teacher at Ingede Primary School in Hammarsdale. But the seed was first planted in his days as a Grade Nine pupil at Mlokothwa High School in Nongoma. He liked what he saw when he put together a boys’ team but they were all aligned to their clubs that they went to after school. So he decided to form his own team. The first members of Sunflower were girls who ran at the school. He first had to change the mind-set of the parents and the community, to make them realise that their girls can and should also play football which they believed was something reserved only for boys.
“We are an innovative team,” Malinga said. “One of the reasons for our stylish apparel is because we know there are kids who come from poor backgrounds. Making all of them look good is to ensure that it’s not exposed who comes from such background. It’s not about showing off. We do that to make every player feel good and ensure they feel at home here.”
Sunflower’s notable graduate is former Banyana Banyana midfielder Memory Makhanya. The squad doing duty in the championships includes members of the national Under-17 team that thrashed Botswana 5-2 in the World Cup qualifiers at Lobatse Sports Complex last Friday.
“This is the first time we have reached the championships by winning the league in KwaZulu-Natal,” Malinga said. “Last year was the turning point. We had nine players who represented Durban and played in the One Nations Cup Football Festival in Germany. The experience they gained there helped us win our league. I just hope that our involvement here helps us get more sponsors on board to grow this brand and fulfil our obligations in the numerous charities we are involved in. My dream is to build a Sunflower Excellence Centre to develop young girls, grooming them to go on and represent their country.”
Njabulo Ngidi is in Nelspruit courtesy of Sasol