Jour­nal­ist ful­fils foot­ball dreams of our youth

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - JANET SMITH

GIRLS WHOOP and squeal, run­ning to­wards each other with their arms out­stretched and their eyes even wider. They grab one an­other, fling­ing their arms around necks and waists.

Victory on the soc­cer pitch is sweeter when your team­mates are your best friends and your sis­ters.

Broad­caster and jour­nal­ist John Perl­man has seen this many times, but it seems he’s not the jump­ing-up-and-down, punch­ing-the-air sort of man. In his gen­er­ous smile is a lovely kind of joy.

“My ear­li­est dreams grow­ing up were sparked by soc­cer,” he writes in a de­scrip­tion of him­self. “Life took me down other roads, but it was this beau­ti­ful game that first got me dream­ing. Af­ter a ca­reer in jour­nal­ism, it’s good to be back at the ear­li­est source of my own am­bi­tions.”

Be­ing “back” does not mean coach­ing, even if there are those who might be­lieve that Perl­man – with a rep­u­ta­tion as an en­gross­ing com­men­ta­tor and a man-who gives ev­ery­thing a 100 per­cent ef­fort – wouldn’t do a bad job in as­sist­ing re­turn­ing coach Car­los Al­berto Per­reira.

Big-hearted Perl­man has helped thou­sands of chil­dren around the coun­try through his non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Dream­fields, an ini­tia­tive staged in part­ner­ship with the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

Girls and boys stand in line for a hand­shake and a medal at the end of a Dream-Event, the tour­na­ments set up by the or­gan­i­sa­tion. They’re all wear­ing boots and kit pro­vided through re­la­tion­ships Perl­man has crafted with Old Mu­tual and BHP Bil­li­ton. And the way in which the teams link up is sim­ple. Proud schools write to Dream­fields to mar­ket their ex­cite­ment about their soc­cer prow­ess, and those which are suc­cess­ful re­ceive DreamBags.

“What I love most about Dream­fields is the way the open­ing of the DreamBags seems to change the mood of the chil­dren,” says Perl­man.

“They ar­rive looking ten­ta­tive and quite shy – and then some­how, as each of them gets kit­ted up, the grow­ing sense of them­selves as a team takes hold and con­fi­dence be­gins to flow.”

For many boys and girls, Dream­fields has given them their first op­por­tu­nity to own a proper pair of boots. DreamBags con­tain a full set of kit for 15 play­ers and in­clude boots, shin pads, balls, pumps, coach­ing kit and whis­tles. So far, nearly 850 Dream-Bags have been handed out across the prov­inces.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has built foot­ball fields from scratch, out of the kind of stony ground on which so many South African foot­ball stars first clat­tered their way to victory. Among the more leg­endary Dream­fields projects is one in­volv­ing four vil­lages in ru­ral Lim­popo. Busi­ness­man Vho­nani Mufamadi put R750 000 of his own money into a drive with the or­gan­i­sa­tion that saw vil­lagers start a league and build two soc­cer fields.

With 2010 months away, Perl­man is stok­ing de­sire for the beau­ti­ful game which is at its most in­tense among chil­dren. And this month, for the sec­ond time, Dream­fields has trav­elled to one of the most po­lit­i­cally em­bat­tled, pover­tys­tricken ar­eas in the coun­try, the vil­lages around Kruger Park, to host its Wild About Soc­cer tour­na­ment, in as­so­ci­a­tion with San-Parks.

Af­ter four joy­ously rough-and­tum­ble days, the teams of boys and girls that reach the Skukuza fi­nals at­tract ul­u­lat­ing fans.

The chance to play foot­ball in­side Kruger brings im­mense plea­sure.

Dreams have again come true.

PIC­TURE: CARA VIERECKL

WILD ABOUT GAME: Chil­dren from lo­cal pri­mary schools were taken on a game drive in the Kruger Na­tional Park dur­ing a Field of Dreams soc­cer tour­na­ment this week.

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