Journalist fulfils football dreams of our youth
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.
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.