For a school that has produced a record number of South African rugby and cricket players, Grey College in Mangaung/Bloemfontein has now set its sights on producing South Africa's future football greats.
The prestigious school of over 150 years has embraced the spirit of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ with open arms, and this weekend twenty schools, many of them from impoverished areas throughout South Africa, descended on Grey College for the fourth annual FNB/Grey College Soccer Tournament, which was eventually won by Rosina High School from Laudium in Pretoria.
With some spirited football on display, the tournament was a shining example of the impact of South Africa hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the development of football at youth level which, it is hoped, will filter through to the national side.
For tournament organiser, Ludwig Koekemoer, the Grey College tournament is about a building grassroots football in South Africa.
"It is about inviting schools from the broader community. It is all about developing soccer at the grassroots level and helping to build a culture of soccer at school level here," said Koekemoer, who has ensured that underprivileged schools can also take part in the tournament by providing transport and accommodation.
People in South Africa are embracing soccer more and more and I think
people were amazed by the Confederations Cup. Now everyone is talking
about the World Cup and with this more and more kids are starting to
play at a younger age
Andrew Gifford, the coach of Johannesburg-based Norkem Park school, which took part in the tournament, says the successful development of school level football is closely related to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
"The success of rugby in South Africa came through from the school system and with the 2010 World Cup on the horizon we are really going in the right direction in terms of developing school soccer further. People in South Africa are embracing soccer more and more and I think people were amazed by the Confederations Cup. Now everyone is talking about the World Cup and with this more and more kids are starting to play at a younger age."
Many of the other coaches who took part in the four-day tournament agree with Gifford that the hosting of the FIFA World Cup next year is going to have positive repercussions for football development long after the final whistle has blown in 2010.
"There is plenty of excitement around 2010. Having the World Cup in Africa will not only develop enthusiasm but we will find more youth players through the system," said Westleigh Wilkinson, coach of St Peters College in Johannesburg.
For the players themselves it is tournaments such as these, and indeed the FIFA World Cup, that will go a long way in ensuring a steady stream of football talent from South African schools.
"These tournaments are helping to develop the game. There is not a lot of club activity at school level so these tournaments are very important for us," said 17-year-old Ricco Sutil, a midfielder for the Grey College team who believes the World Cup is important for him and his fellow players. "Because of the World Cup more people are wanting to play and I think more tournaments will come out of this. After the World Cup, South African soccer will be in a much better position."
Koekemoer says Grey College is already seeing the benefits of hosting the tournament. "We are glad to play a role in the development of these players, many of whom have gone on to play in PSL (Premier Soccer League) or first division teams."