FROM the dusty streets of Ngxabaxha, a remote village in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape, to the world football stage – this was the journey travelled by 14 Under 12 players from Barkerville Junior Secondary School after being crowned the 2011 Danone Nations Cup champions and getting the opportunity to travel to Spain to compete in the World Finals. Sixolise Ntontela was one of the players and recounts his experience.
Coming from an impoverished village where there is limited water and almost no electricity, the trip was one of ‘firsts’. Waiting to board a plane was the first for this young 11 year old: “On the one hand I felt scared and a bit like crying, but on the other hand I was excited,” said Ntontela. “I don’t think anyone in our village has ever been on a plane and knowing that I would go home with stories to tell the elders was exciting. Yes, we will be educating them instead of the other way around!”
Ntontela acknowledged the valuable input from ex Bafana Bafana and Kaizer Chiefs player, Neil Tovey. “Neil came to talk to us the day we left. He spoke about travelling to Europe and put us at ease. He told us it was natural to feel a bit nervous and all the teams will feel the same and we must just have fun. He told us to enjoy this once in a life time experience and look at it like that as opposed to letting nerves ruin the wonderful opportunity. I kept thinking of this throughout the trip.”
Reflects Ntontela: “When we got to the grounds for our first game we were all very quiet. Playing on an artificial pitch was so new to us. The ball moves so quickly which we were not used to as our field at home is on a slope and the surface is bumpy without lines or proper goal posts. Then we saw some South African journalists who told us to remember our culture and got us singing and blowing our vuvuzela’s. This gave us such energy and we went onto the field and beat Germany 2 – 1.”
But their next game was not as good: “The Canadian team was sitting in front of us at the draw and they were so big!” said the slightly build Ntontela. “The giants got the better of us and beat us. But we kept remembering what Neil said – the experience is also about losing games and bouncing back.”
“We finished in 28th position out of 40 countries. We would like to have done better, but we need to remember that our team had the second smallest players (Haitian players were the smallest) and we managed to finish higher on the log than football playing nations such as Italy and France. Brazil and South Africa were the first two teams to arrive in Spain so we became friends and did everything together. They came first which we are pleased about. They were always supporting us and we did the same for them.”
The youngster was impressed with the food and would have liked his mother to have seen what he ate. Since this was not possible he has vowed to guide his mother to feed the family something similar. Says the youngster with excitement: “So much happened in Spain that I have a story to tell my family every day!” He admits that prior to the trip he never believed what a powerful impact the Danone words ‘Believe in your dreams’ would have on his life.
Ntontela admitted that there were some embarrassing moments and these related to learning things that most kids of his age around the world knew such as eating with a knife and fork. “This was new to me. There were so many things to learn that sometimes I wish I could go back just to see and learn more.”
What is for sure is that competing in the Danone Nations Cup World Finals has opened his eyes to the world and there is no turning back. Ntontela will be working that much harder and in six years time, after completing school, he is determined to go to University and study Mechanical Engineering as this will help him earn the money to see more of the world. “But first I will build a house for my mother and help my brothers and sisters with their education. I am so determined that I have asked my maths teacher, Mr Mngambi to mentor me.”
Ntontela is not just a good soccer player and is currently on trials for the Under 13 Eastern Cape Cricket team.
Since its inception in 2000, the Danone Nations Cup tournament has grown from 8 participating countries to now 40 and South Africa is the only country to win the event three times (2003,2007 and 2009) and to date the Danone Nations Cup has touched the lives of over 16 million children around the world. “All kids who get to the World Finals, experience that will undoubtedly become a cherished memory. Good habits and the formative years of life are fundamental building blocks for the future predominantly to young people. This tournament truly gives young children an opportunity to strive for more in their lives, hence the motto believe in your dreams” says Sandra Dorville, Communications manager of Danone Southern Africa.