It’s been a literal fairy tale ride for the Dutch goalkeeper, who went from being unemployed to Cape Town City star in the space of two months.
Three months ago, new Cape Town City goalkeeper Peter Leeuwenburgh was unemployed, an anxious free agent following his release by Ajax Amsterdam after 14 years with the Dutch giants, with his future worryingly uncertain as the start of the new season loomed ever closer. Merely 43 days later, the tall shot-stopper’s name covered the back pages of newspapers all over South Africa following his semi-final penalty shootout heroics against the mighty Mamelodi Sundowns as he single-handedly helped his new club to a consecutive MTN8 final. KICK OFF’s Fabio De Dominicis sat down with City’s new number one as he reflected on his incredible journey to South Africa.
Peter Leeuwenburgh can’t help but giggle as he recalls the first time his five-year-old self stood between the now very familiar goal posts and put on a pair of goalkeeper gloves. “I started playing football when I was five years old at my local football club, and played as an outfield player for two weeks,” he begins, as we sit in the warm spring sunshine on the stands at Hartleyvale Stadium, Cape Town City’s training base. “We didn’t have a goalkeeper, and had to change goalkeeper every game. When it was my turn, I said to my mom, ‘I like this T-shirt, I want to keep it.’ So my mom said to the coach, ‘You have a new goalkeeper!’” The rest, as the cliché goes, his history. Following five years at his local village club, the increasingly-impressive youngster was then spotted at a local tournament by Ajax Amsterdam scouts, who invited him for a trial. And as a passionate Ajax fan, the next step was a no-brainer.
“THE DOCTOR TOLD ME THAT IF I WENT FOR SURGERY AGAIN, THERE WAS A CHANCE I COULD NEVER RETURN TO THE SAME LEVEL I WAS BEFORE.”
“If Ajax calls, of course you go!” he exclaims. There was a slight problem, however: the Leeuwenburgh family lived in Oud-Beijerland, some 100 kilometres away from Amsterdam. “Amsterdam was a 1 hour and 10 minute drive away from my hometown, so it was a tough choice, but my parents said, ‘ We are going to do it if you want it,’” he recalls. “So they drove me there every day, and changed their whole work schedule for me. School would normally finish at 4pm, but I’d leave at 2pm to drive to Amsterdam, train and then come back home. We did this every day for two years.” Leeuwenburgh’s family then relocated to a town closer to Amsterdam, following which the club would collect the young teenage footballerf from school, take him to training and drop him off at home at the end of the day, along with several other teammates. “I was always the last one dropped off, so I’d only get home at around 9 o’clock in the evening,” the goalkeeper remembers. Training alongside now household names Christian Eriksen [ Tottenham Hotspur], Davy Klaassen [ Werder Bremen], and Viktor Fischer [FC Copenhagen], graduating to the next age group in the Ajax academy was no easy feat, yet Leeuwenburgh’s obvious talent ensured his progression through the ranks, before finally being handed the ultimate prize, and what every youngster within the club’s structures dreamt of: a first team contract. “I made it to the first team as the third-choice goalkeeper – Jasper Cillessen [current Netherlands first-choice goalkeeper] was at the time the first-choice, so it was really good to be able to train with him,” he says.