Thu, Apr 15, 2010 - Page 18 News List

S African soccer grannies aim for glory

AGE NO BARRIEROnica Ndzovela, 77, suffered back pain and sore knees before joining a soccer team three years ago but is now a woman transformed

REUTERS , JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

Members of Vakhegula Vakhegula (Grannies Grannies) Football Club prepare for a match on Saturday against Metro Rail Eagles at Esselen Park in Johannesburg.

PHOTO: REUTERS

As the World Cup approaches, South Africa’s soccer grannies are working to fulfill their own dream — competing for glory in the US.

The 35 women, aged 50 to 84, play for a team called Vakhegula Vakhegula, or “Grannies Grannies” in the Xitsonga language of northern South Africa.

The team was founded by community worker Beka Ntsanwisi five years ago to help the older women keep fit and flexible, but the project has been so successful they have set their sights on a trip to the Veterans Cup competition in Lancaster, Michigan.

“We have been invited to play in America from July 13 to July 18 for the Veterans Cup, where the grannies come together and play soccer. Not only grannies but everybody who is old. So my problem now, the challenge that I have, is that I do not have enough money,” Ntsanwisi told reporters.

The team hails from a rural township near Tzaneen, 600km north of Johannesburg. They came to South Africa’s business capital last weekend to play in a tournament to raise money for their trip to the US.

They played with credit, egged on by cheering crowds, before going down 3-1 to the Metro Rail Eagles, whose players are mostly in their 30s.

The grannies though are undaunted.

Ntsanwisi said they had raised 130,000 rand (US$17,900) so far but need 500,000 rand to make the trip to the US for a tournament that starts two days after the end of the month-long World Cup in the country, the first to be held in Africa.

Whatever happens, however, the grannies have no regrets, saying playing soccer, often in their aprons after domestic work, has changed their lives.

Onica Ndzovela, 77, suffered back pain and sore knees before joining the team three years ago.

“I am fresh, I don’t feel any pain in my body, I can run. At home I do all the housework by myself. I paint the walls and fit tiles,” defender Ndzovela said.

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