THOUSANDS of youngsters in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas were kept off the gang-plagued streets at the weekend as GM’s Northern Areas Football Association (Nafa) Easter Soccer Tournament provided tons of excitement at the Gelvandale Stadium and Sport Grounds, where 24 soccer teams competed for the tournament title.
The tournament, now in its 41st year and in aid of the Help our Children Play campaign, driven by Bay entrepreneurs in an effort to fight gangsterism, alcoholism and drug and child abuse in the northern areas, hosted more than 10000 people this year, a huge improvement on previous years’ poor turnout.
The campaign hopes to raise funds to reduce the costs of soccer participation for underprivileged youngsters.
The tournament kick- off and gala opening ceremony on Friday evening saw 1200 young soccer stars along with 480 senior players, led by the St George’s brass band, parade the field in their team colours, proudly representing every child lost to the social ills in the area.
Award-winning vocal groups Chapter 3 and Genesix, freestyle dancer Angel and the Vandelyders dance academy provided the entertainment as an electrified crowd sang and danced until well into the night.
For tournament organiser Craig Diedericks from Bargain Insights, the highlight of the event was to see a 38% increase in youth attending the festivities. “This shows that our youth are hungry for such initiatives,” he said.
“Not only was the turnout better than the last two years, but we were fortunate to have good weather, a great vibe all weekend and sponsors who really gave their hearts to the cause. The Easter soccer tournament has been around for a long time, but this one was without a doubt one of the best in a while.”
GMSA, back after a nearly 20-year absence, provided kiddies’ entertainment worth R50000. A clown, tug-o-war games, face painting and the biggest inflatable playground for children in the Eastern Cape lit up hundreds of underprivileged faces.
“GM’s sponsorship of this year’s event mostly went towards club fees and kit for young soccer players through the Help Our Children Play sport development initiative, GMSA corporate communications manager Gishma Johnson said.
“Soccer in the northern areas is a big deal and a huge drawcard to get our children off the streets and onto the field.”
The police presence at the stadium, sports grounds, Gelvandale and surrounds was doubled this year to ensure the safety of those who attended. “The police were in contact with the SAPS headquarters in Bhisho, updating them with the state of the tournament every two hours which really set everyone at ease,” Diedericks said.
“Then, of course, our other sponsors gave free train rides to the kids who could otherwise not afford it, among other things, and that really made this tournament special.”
As the tournament drew to an end yesterday, hundreds of residents filled the stadium stands singing along with the band while their teams played in the final.
Mercia Bellairs from Gelvandale, whose sons played in the junior league on Friday, said: “It is the electrifying vibe every year that makes us come back. This year was different because of the state the northern areas is in. Seeing the organisers taking note and trying to make a difference using this popular tournament really is heart-warming.” – Alvené du Plessis