15 October 2004
English Premier League club Charlton Athletic is home to two of South African football’s most loved exports, Mark Fish and Shaun Bartlett. The club’s South African connection goes further than that, though, extending all the way to Alexandra township in Johannesburg.
Members of the Charlton Football in the Community scheme and the club’s community liaison department jetted into South Africa this week to follow up on work that began in the township in 2003.
One of three projects initiated by the club was the training of 18 youth workers, police officers and teachers to be qualified football coaches – the first time the English Football Association’s Level One coaching course had ever been carried out outside England.
According to Matt Wright, writing on Charlton Athletic’s website, those new coaches have been holding football sessions in Alexandra schools and youth clubs over the past 12 months.
During the club’s latest trip, a further 20 students will complete the coaching course under the guidance of community scheme officers. Once they have qualified, they will be able to start and run community-based football clubs and leagues.
Then there is a youth development programme that sees the Metropolitan Police teaming up with the South African Police Service and Bristol’s John Cabot Technical College from Bristol in bringing it to Alexandra. The course focuses on citizenship, health education and information technology.
John Cabot looks after the third part of the programme. The college, as part of its ongoing charity work in conjunction with British Airways and Unicef, is working to empower township dwellers in literacy, computer technology, sewing and textiles.
Charlton Athletic chairman Martin Simons, speaking from South Africa on Tuesday, said: “It’s another week of extremely hard work. We have got the first lot of 200 kids coming this afternoon, and in total we expect to see 1 000 youngsters this week.
“When we left last year we were really hoping that things would take off in this township , and that’s exactly what has happened”, Simons said. “The coaches that we trained have seen more than 4 000 kids since we were last there, and it’s important to remember that they’re carrying out all of this work voluntarily – they’re not getting paid.
“One of the big considerations in everything we do is whether or not the work is sustainable”, Simons said. “It seems so so far, and we want to be able to come back in five years’ time and discover that hundreds of thousands of children have received football coaching.”
British Bank Barclays, whose chairman, Matt Barrett, is also visiting the country this week, is to host a special presentation event on Friday. According to Charlton’s website, “discussions are taking place to see if the company wants to become involved with the project, possibly as a sponsor”.
Barclays is bidding to buy a majority stake in SA banking group Absa.
Charlton Athletic’s Alexandra connection is part of the club’s “Red, White and Black” campaign that is into its second decade and targets racism.
On 8 November 2003, Charlton celebrated its South African connection when the club tackled Fulham at The Valley on a day the club called South Africa Day.
Speaking on the day, former Bafana Bafana player Mark Fish said that since joining Charlton, “I have been amazed at the extent of the club’s work in its community, and I am proud to support that work, both locally and back in my homeland.
“It’s something that is very important to me because of the historical links between the club and South Africa and the community work that the club’s been doing over there.”