Making Men at Izichwe Football Club

By | September 20th, 2013 | 7 Comments



Guest Post by *Liz Timbs

In August 2013, I had the privilege of spending three days with the Izichwe Football Club in Pietermaritzburg, capital of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. During my brief stay, I observed training sessions, visited players’ high schools, and interviewed some of the young men and coaches. The quotes below come from these conversations.

Every weekday afternoon at the University of KwaZulu-Natal campus in Pietermaritzburg, two dozen 10th grade-boys come together on a humble football pitch to hone their skills at Izichwe Football Club. Established in 2010 and named after the first military regiment (ibutho) commanded by Shaka Zulu, the club is “not just about kicking a ball,” says Thabo Dladla, founding director of Izichwe and Director of Soccer at UKZN. It is also about developing young men of character and respect who represent their communities and themselves with pride and honor.

Respect (inhlonipho in the Zulu language) and discipline (inkuliso) are core values at Izichwe as they are in Zulu culture more broadly. The coaches refer to the teenagers as amadoda (umarried young men) and even baba (father) to stress the importance of carrying themselves in a mature way on and off the pitch.

These two dozen high school boys at Izichwe embody the values and lessons imparted to them by their coaches, especially Thabo’s emphasis on showing self-respect as much as respect for others. When I spoke with the youngsters, they politely thanked me for coming to Pietermaritzburg to meet them and spoke with poise beyond their years.

“The program is not only about sports or soccer. It’s mostly about life,” Asanda tells me. Izichwe is “about respecting the people you are around, and playing fair, which applies in life. You do it the right way. Don’t cheat. Don’t cheat yourself.” Similarly, Simphiwe stated, without hesitation, that Izichwe had taught him “to work hard in life and to respect your instructors.” Asanda and Simphiwe’s statements were echoed in a team meeting I observed. Technical director Mhlanga Madondo, a police officer, entreated the players to look at their performances in the previous weekend’s tournament, stating that he expected them to “take responsibility for their own growth.”

Hard work is another crucial component of the Izichwe way. When I asked Lindi what the program had given him, he said, simply: “discipline.” Every day, without exception, the boys make their way to the university sports fields to train from 3:30p.m. to 5:30p.m. Many of the boys also play for their school teams at least one day a week (with one boy competing in cross country events in addition to playing school soccer). Saturday is match day in a local amateur league. Sundays are reserved for tournaments. This intense, demanding schedule instills in the boys not only physical endurance and strength, but mental acuity as well. Dladla believes this constant pressure shows the dedication and perseverance of his players. “Boys like Siphesehle (the cross country runner), he’s very, very competitive, you know? He did cross country; he came [to training], and I said, “Hey! You rest!” He said, “No, coach! I came to train!”

Although the players’ development as athletes is central to the program, Thabo, a former teacher and ex-professional footballer, regularly reminds players that “nothing in this life is as important as knowledge.” As a result, the program integrates numerous educational programs into their activities. Every night at the conclusion of practice, around 5:30, a group of the players gathers in a classroom on campus to study under the supervision of volunteer university students.

The coaches closely monitor individuals’ academic performance by reviewing school progress reports. This scrutiny, one parent explained, helps to “notice any hiccups in their progress at school.” In the opinion of Devon, the life sciences teacher at Alexandra High School, which several Izichwe boys attend, such devoted attention to player’s academics is unusual when compared with many other students who lack such careful supervision. “It’s a structured lifestyle which, I think, is lacking in a lot of our schools,” Devon explained. “I think that’s partly why these boys are so successful. They grow and they excel in every area.”

The youngsters openly expressed their gratitude to the adults who put precious time, energy, and resources into the program. “There are many kids out there who want this opportunity and we are very special to get that,” Mpumelelo said. Sandile stated unequivocally that the program has “changed the most part of my life.” Keelyn agreed, and without hesitation added that thanks to Izichwe, “I found myself.” Sandile spoke passionately about his appreciation for Izichwe: “Basically, what this program means to me is that it gives me the opportunity to realize a dream that I never thought . . . it was never something I believed I’d be able to do . . . it just made me realize, if I continue working hard enough, I can be one of the best players in the world.”

The Izichwe coaches are also grateful to be part of this project. Coach Madondo said that working with these young men has inspired him; he’s seen them “not just growing physically, but also [in] how to approach life.” Coach Ronnie “Reese” Chetty, who had a long coaching career including experiences in the United States, told me he is reinvigorated by the hard work and dedication these young men exhibit on a daily basis. The coaches are also driven and guided by the hardships, struggles, and perseverance of some of the players and families.

“It’s people like Sipesehle and Mhlengi’s mothers who sometimes give me lots of motivation when I see how hard they try, you know?” explained Thabo Dladla. “So then, I say: ‘Hey man! I cannot give up. I cannot let them down. So let me try and help them develop real men,’ you know?”

And from what I saw these Izichwe boys are becoming real men of immense diligence, humility, discipline, and respect. And, perhaps even more so, this community of boys, men, and parents demonstrates the great potential for grassroots soccer programs to fuel the development of not only athletic talent with a bright future in sport, but also of productive citizens in a democratic society.


*Liz Timbs is a PhD student in African history at Michigan State University. Her research interests are in the history of health and healing in South Africa; the professionalization of medicine; masculinity studies; and comparative studies between South Africa and the United States. Follow her on Twitter: @tizlimbs

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Education Through Fútbol

By | July 21st, 2013 | 2 Comments

 

Guest Post by *Liz Timbs

 

This summer, I was granted the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant (with Hikabwa Chipande) for Peter Alegi’s online course Culture of Soccer. Part of Michigan State University’s general education requirements, this 7-week interdisciplinary course explores global soccer in historical and contemporary perspective, analyzing fútbol’s changing relationship with race, class, gender, ethnicity, economics, and media. The course took place mainly on a self-hosted WordPress site on the open web. In this blog post, I want to reflect on some aspects of online teaching that not only changed the way I think about pedagogy and learning, but also altered the way I conceptualize the global game.

 

In the past year, my knowledge of fútbol has expanded exponentially. Beginning my doctoral program at MSU, it seemed that I was suddenly engulfed in the global game. My advisor, Peter Alegi, is considered one of the foremost experts on African soccer (see Laduma!, African Soccerscapes, and the just-released Africa’s World Cup); my roommate played club soccer in college; my dear friend Hikabwa Chipande is doing his doctoral research on soccer in Zambia; many of my friends are dedicated to various European teams, and the game continues to crop up in my readings for various courses.

 

Culture of Soccer (aka ISS328) allowed me to not only learn from the course materials, but also from the students who brought their own perspectives and generated insights via their weekly blogs. Here are a few things I learned as an instructor in this course about soccer and about the collaborative relationship between teachers and students.

 

1. Sport = Icebreaker
From the very first week, this course illustrated what a powerful icebreaker sport can be. Often, university students come in “blind,” with limited knowledge of the topics and themes being explored. In ISS328, the approximately 100 students may have entered with only a basic notion of global soccer culture, but their highly diverse sporting experiences and knowledge enabled them to connect to the material. In the first week, students were required to comment on this post on soccer as religion. Even in the very early stages of the course, students brought nuanced approaches to this subject, drawing on their experiences as fans, athletes, and citizens of the world. Students began a dialogue not only amongst themselves, but also with Peter, Chipande, and myself. Sport proved to be a fantastic icebreaker, which set the mood for the rest of the course.

 

2. Interdisciplinarity = Insight
The students for ISS328 came from a wide range of academic majors and specialties, ranging from advertising, packaging, and English to nursing, kinesiology, and early childhood development (to name but a few). These diverse disciplinary interests came to the surface most clearly in Week 3, during which we explored fandom through the Hillsborough Tragedy and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. In particular, quite a few students who major in psychology and early childhood development offered nuanced analyses of Hornby’s relationships with his family and the connections these relationships had to his fanatical obsession with Arsenal (for example, see this blog post). These contributions seemed to inspire their fellow classmates to think about the readings in new ways and to incorporate those perspectives into subsequent writings for the course. Furthermore, they enhanced my understanding of the material and forced me to stretch my own intellectual development as I responded to their writing through comments and emails.

 

3. Fandom Is A Universal Language
ISS328 attracted athletes and sports enthusiasts, from the most serious to the loosely casual. These men and women were not only soccer players and fans, but also rowers, hockey players, and aficionados of a wide variety of sports. Again, in Week 3, students offered really insightful comparisons between their own experiences as sports fanatics with that of Hornby’s obsessive relationship with the game (for example, see this post, this post, and this post, as just a few examples from that week). As a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan myself, I also drew comparisons between my own love-hate relationship with my beloved Steelers and Hornby’s conflicted relationship with Arsenal. The students (and myself) were able to relate to the material on a personal level, making the online assignments much more meaningful when compared to, say, a didactic recounting of a week’s readings and videos.

 

In short, this fútbol course taught me a lot about the importance of sport in society and its unifying potential. Since the course ended, I have continued to read more on soccer in general (The Ball Is Round, Soccernomics, How Soccer Explains the World), and in South Africa (More Than Just a Game, Development and Dreams). I hope to incorporate football and other leisure practices into my research on the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Furthermore, I intend to join the Football Scholars Forum at MSU, as well as watch many more matches throughout the year with friends and colleagues. “Culture of Soccer” taught me so much and contributed to my own development as a scholar and a fan. For me, the game has only just begun, and I am excited to see where it takes me.

 

*Liz Timbs is a PhD student in African history at Michigan State University. Her research interests are in the history of health and healing in South Africa, including the AIDS epidemic; the professionalization of medicine; masculinity studies; and comparative studies between South Africa and the United States. Follow her on Twitter: @tizlimbs

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Footballer of the Revolution: Mekhloufi and the FLN team

By | March 20th, 2013 | No Comments

On April 13, 1958, in the midst of Algeria’s war of independence, ten Algerian professional players surreptitiously left France for Tunis. Among them was 21-year-old St. Etienne forward Rachid Mekhloufi, the central character in the second installment of the “Football Rebels” documentary on Al Jazeera.

Through evocative interviews, archival footage, and on-camera visits to important historical sites, the documentary crafts a lively, humanistic, and emotional account of the FLN team. In tours of North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and East Asia between 1958 and 1961, the Algerians compiled a record of sixty-five wins, thirteen draws, and thirteen losses. Playing entertaining, attacking football, the FLN side heightened international awareness of the Algerian fight against French colonialism and garnered broad support for the FLN, at home and abroad. The Algerians even sought to become part of FIFA, but the world body rejected the application.

In a highpoint of the film, Mekhloufi remembers how wearing a national uniform, flying a national flag, and singing “Kassaman” (We Pledge)–which later became independent Algeria’s national anthem–in a stadium full of ordinary fans as well as guerrillas instilled pride in him and made an imagined “Algeria” real. “What I got out of that FLN team,” says Mekhloufi in the closing moments of the film, “couldn’t have been bought with all the gold in the world.” Indeed, by putting patriotism before profit and crystallizing an emerging national identity, the FLN footballers propelled the Algerian people’s quest for equality and freedom. What an incredibly powerful story about sport and human rights. Watch, listen, and learn.

For more details about this revolutionary football team, see my post “Death of a Striker, Fighter, and Socialist” on Ben Bella and my book African Soccerscapes. Other helpful sources are Ian Hawkey’s Feet of the Chameleon, Laurent Dubois’s Soccer Empire, and, for French readers, R. Saadallah and D. Benfars’s La Glorieuse Équipe du FLN and Michel Nait-Challal’s Dribbleurs de l’indépendance.

A “Hallmark Holiday” for American Soccer

By | December 22nd, 2012 | 1 Comment

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Guest Post by Tom McCabe

I’ve been invited to not one, but three Boxing Day parties this year, which got me thinking that the day after Christmas should become a soccer holiday in the United States. Like other manufactured holidays such as Grandparent’s Day, Secretary’s Day, and Boss’s Day, Boxing Day can become American soccer’s Hallmark Holiday.

This country has no real tradition for December 26th, unlike England and some other Commonwealth countries, so two Englishmen and one American I know have co-opted the day and made it an “unofficial” soccer holiday.


My friend Jimmie’s son was born seven years ago on Boxing Day, and ever since he has an open house for his soccer-loving friends and family. He wants his son’s birthday to always be filled with soccer. His house is just seven exits away on the Garden State Parkway (yes, the “Which exit?” New Jersey joke lives on) so my son and I watch a Premier League match as we eat an early morning English breakfast.

Phil, an Englishman, just started his Boxing Day party, but we’ll have to pass on it as one in our hometown gets top billing. Steve, a Scouser who supports Liverpool, has hosted a match and after-party for a number of years now.

The event starts as an eleven-a-side “international” between England and the U.S.A., but disintegrates into a twenty-a-side melee when the kids join in. It ends with a party at the local Elks Lodge. Last year, the Stars and Stripes posted a convincing 4-1 victory over Mother England on a clear, cold day. One player dressed as a Victorian-era Englishman with a retro Three Lions jersey, long white shorts, and a faux mustache. After the match we warm ourselves with meat pies and beer.

It’s a festive day of food and football that others should partake in. Soccer clubs could use it as a get-together after the fall season. Professional clubs might use the opportunity to stage an exhibition match, advertise the coming season (Major League Soccer just announced its home openers for 2013 this past week), or just host fans for a holiday party.

Whatever the motivation, December 26 could become a day that gets you off the couch and back onto the field. With soccer as its focus, it would be better than any of those other Hallmark Holidays.

Motor City Celebrates US Women’s Team

By | December 9th, 2012 | 7 Comments



Guest Post by Sophie Alegi
11-year-old soccer player and writer in Michigan. This is her first match report.

December 8, 2012

Detroit –17,371 people came to Ford Field to watch USA vs. China: an attendance record for a women’s soccer game in Michigan.

The US was not used to the artificial surface. Players struggled to control the ball. The surface was clearly not appropriate for soccer because when they passed the ball, it bounced up and down slightly, as if the carpet was ruffled.

China’s defense was shaky in the first five minutes, letting at least six shots be hammered at their goalkeeper, Zhang Yue. The best chance was for Amy Rodriguez who was playing in her 100th international match. China let the US pin them down in their own half. But the Chinese pulled together, playing tight defense.

All of the players were extremely close together; making it very difficult for the US to connect their usual passes. The US started to look a little wobbly in the back, with Shannon Boxx giving up ball after ball in the defensive third. Hope Solo managed to keep out a powerful shot by the Chinese number ten with a spectacular aerial save.

In the midfield, the US gave up at least ten balls, giving China easy opportunities to go forward. But the US defense held up, and only a few shots were directed at Solo.

Unfortunately, the two times the ball went down the wing Megan Rapinoe failed to get the ball to Abby Wambach’s head. China started to get physical about eighteen minutes into the half. Every time an American player turned, she would get brutally fouled. It hurts to fall on that carpet surface!

Twenty minutes in, a Chinese player got a yellow card. On the resulting play, Wambach received a cross. The ball glanced off her head and out. She probably wanted that one back. The young Chinese team did well to close up the gaps, but the US team was playing at the speed of molasses.

Thirty minutes in the US began to play in the Chinese penalty box. They would pass around on the outskirts, trying to find an opening. The referee was not very good. She botched a corner kick call and awarded a goal kick instead. A corner was awarded to the US thirty-one minutes in. Wambach got clattered on the back post by a giant Chinese defender.

(more…)

Fútbologia: Talking Football in Bologna

By | November 2nd, 2012 | 1 Comment



I caught the football virus early on in life. Growing up in Rome, some of my earliest memories of pure freedom and unadulterated joy had to do with playing football with my brothers, friends, and school mates in courtyards, playgrounds, streets and on the dirt and gravel pitches of Villa Ada and Villa Borghese. Eventually, I made it into the CONI Acqua Acetosa football academy, which in the 1970s was a bountiful feeder program for youth development programs across the city, including Roma and Lazio.

This was around the time of the Iranian Revolution and the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis (go see Argo if you haven’t yet). When our creative writing teacher demanded an essay on a global topic, I cheekily produced a (handwritten) lengthy fiction piece about an Iran vs. U.S. “peace match” in Tehran. I coreographed it tightly. President Carter and Ayatollah Khomeini sat next to each other in the VIP seats (!) and at the end of the match the unifying power of sport resolved the diplomatic crisis. Nothing like a young boy’s idealism and imagination!

These childhood memories were suddenly stirred up when I learned about “Fútbologia 2012″ — a day-long gathering to be held in Bologna on Saturday, November 3. John Foot, lecturer in Italian history at the University of London and author of Calcio: A History of Italian Football will give a keynote address (follow him on Twitter @footymac) based on his book and the evolution of football writing in Italy and abroad.

I liked the emotional, unpretentious prose of the event’s official description, as well as its philosophical thrust. “We sniff football from when we are kids. The smell of mold in the dressing room, shoe polish, sweaty uniforms,” write the Fútbologia organizers. “Entire lineups memorized. We watch football since forever. We recognize stadiums from around the world. And yet the level of discourse on football in Italy is very modest. And its global business system is in deep shit. We’ve been having less fun for quite some time. But now we have a plan. A conversation about football from a historical perspective, comparative and contemporary. About power and popular culture. Social sciences and physical sciences, art and literature. High pressing and Tahrir Square.”

Now that’s what I call a Saturday well spent. Buon divertimento!

For more information visit the futbologia.org blog.

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Come on Michael! The American De Rossi

By | October 9th, 2012 | 1 Comment



Guest Post by “Er Prof”

Dear friends, unfortunately last week I could not post my comment on the match in Turin, but I can confirm that there are still clouds over the capital. It looks like there are few players who cannot accept Zeman’s ideas and on Sunday the great majority of us at the Stadio Olimpico were speechless when De Rossi and Osvaldo were both left on the bench. We are talking about two Italian internationals, one the top goal scorer and the other “Capitan Futuro,” who will inherit the captaincy when Totti retires. If you need a comparison it is like leaving Pirlo and Vucinic out of Juve’s starting eleven.

The first 20 minutes of the match with Atalanta were horrible for the giallorossi with plenty of chances for the black and blue from Bergamo, one of the Northern cities where the hate against Rome is more visceral. We luckily survived, thanks to the crossbar and three great saves by Stekelenburg. AS Roma finally started playing better and by the end of the first half we were in front thanks to a great pass from Totti (a little spoon pass) to Erik Lamela, the Argentinian striker who softly pushed the ball into Atalanta’s goal. Destro nearly scored a second, but he smashed the cross bar. Then Lamela was fouled inside the box, but the referee had his eyes closed so the first half ended 1-0.

During the second half AS Roma played calmly and without giving space to the opponents. Michael Bradley, back from injury, grew in confidence until he scored the second on an easy ball after a shot from outside the penalty area. Atalanta then seemed to have drawn level, but the referee (wrongly) disallowed it for offside. I ran away from the Olimpico before the end of the match, fearful of watching another victory be senselessly squandered.

I am proud and happy for Bradley who celebrated his first league goal for the wolves right in front of our seats. He played poorly at the beginning of the match, losing possession several times in midfield, but the entire team started with fear in their hearts. Bradley’s performance improved dramatically over the course of the match and I hope he will be on the pitch in Genoa in two weeks time. I remember him from last season’s match in Verona against us; he was one of Chievo’s best players, always fighting and stealing dozens of balls from our midfielders. Now Bradley needs to develop the ability to make the vertical passes crucial for Zeman’s 4-3-3 system to work.

Of course, in Italy soccer is like a religion and so Bradley’s chances of replacing a healthy, in-form De Rossi are almost nil. But Zeman clearly thought Osvaldo and De Rossi were not working hard enough during training, while Bradley showed greater effort and convinced the Bohemian Master. After Sunday’s game, I am confident the American will be a regular choice as one of the three midfielders.

Come on Michael, this is your time!

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