More than football

Soccer has been played in Stellenbosch streets and informal fields for decades, but before the Stellenbosch Football Club there was never a pathway for the town’s young footballers. We discover what’s changed.

Stellenbosch FC players warm up during the DStv Premiership match.

“TO BE PROMOTED to the PSL and finish fourth within three years – that was a real success for the team,” says Steve Barker, head coach of the Stellenbosch Football Club (SFC).

In the short time there has been a football club in the City of Oaks, it’s lived a fairy tale. When the club was first established in Stellenbosch in 2016, it was competing in the National First Division. But soon after being acquired by the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, it was crowned the 2019 divisional champions and won immediate promotion into the Premier Soccer League (PSL).

In that first season, the on-field objective was simply to retain status. The club recruited a few experienced footballers to guide their young squad and ended the season in 10th place. Fast-forward to the most recent season and the club punched above its weight to end in fourth position, beating both the Soweto giants, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, in the process.

LEFT: Steve Barker, head coach of the SFC. RIGHT: Rob Benadie, CEO of the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport.

It must have been sweet for the owners, but Rob Benadie, CEO of the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, says promotion into the PSL was never the main driver. What the change has achieved, though, is to fast-track the impact the SFC has on the local community and the opportunities it can create for younger players.

Last season the reserve under-21 team was the winner of the DStv Diski Challenge League and on a tour to the United Kingdom it beat Leicester City Football Club and lifted the NextGen Cup.

“What makes this really amazing is that 18 months earlier, the majority of the players who went overseas had never before flown or even stayed in a hotel. Many are from poor backgrounds, but now football has provided them with a window to the world,” says Rob.

“Never before has there been a pathway for young footballers in our community,” concurs Steve. “They could not really see how to achieve something with their talent – now they can touch it.” He adds, “Players born and bred right here in Stellenbosch – in the same streets as they were – are playing in the PSL and for Bafana Bafana.”

Stellenbosch goalkeeper Lee-Raoul Langeveldt.

Born in Stellenbosch, Lee Langeveldt (36) has been playing football for more than 17 years and represented South Africa from under-17 level to Bafana Bafana.
For the past six years, he has been the SFC’s goalkeeper and is the club’s most senior local player. In the make-or-break National First Division final against Maccabi Football Club in 2019, Lee was pivotal to the SFC’s advancement, preventing any goals from shooting past him during the 0–0 draw.
For Lee, the aim is to represent the club and local community “for as long as possible”.

Having a competitive side in Stellenbosch is not only meaningful for the sporting code of football, it is also a unifying force for the community and has the possibility to transform the town’s narrative, according to Steve. Already known as a world-class rugby and cycling town, Stellenbosch can be much more than just that, he suggests.

“We can also be a world-class football town and, more importantly, a more united town across cultural and socio-economic boundaries,” he says. “We all know how football can bring people together. The entire town now has one team that they can support and be a part of.”

Resident Rhodes Benting has been supporting the Stellenbosch Football Club from the first. As chairman of the Idas Valley Sport Board for the past 15 years, he instantly saw the value of a club playing its home games on his turf.
“I supported them from the beginning because I know that where I come from, we never had those opportunities. So it was something to look forward to,” he says. “I know they are putting us on the map for sure.”

And local supporters are returning the favour. Sporting team jerseys, posters and SFC flags, the crowd becomes the 12th man on the field. The knowledge that they are not only playing for the club, but for the community at large, spurs them on, says Lee.

Building bonds with fans is vital. Rob Benadie, CEO of the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, hopes the SFC can become one of the top four locally supported clubs in the country.

“Seeing packed stadiums of different races and cultures coming together – that unconditional support week in and week out – means a lot to us players. They are the same people who bring a positive atmosphere by singing and dancing when we score.”

Rhodes adds, “I don’t think I’ll ever not support the SFC. Whatever its vision and mission may be, I know it’s a hell of a good thing that it happened to Stellenbosch.”
With more than 80% of the SFC’s youth players coming from Stellenbosch, the club’s presence is of tremendous value to the town and greater Winelands. A key component in the SFC’s strategy is the identification of young talent. Having under-12, under-14, under-16 and under-18 teams, the SFC takes pride in its Youth Academy, which nurtures up-and-coming players from Stellenbosch and beyond.
And the SFC’s young talent is not going unnoticed. Players Jayden Adams (21), Lebohang Nthene (21), Athenkosi Mcaba (20) and Antonio van Wyk (20) were chosen for the Bafana Bafana squad in last year’s Cosafa Cup. The team won the plate final against Botswana by two goals to one – and Antonio scored the first goal.

“I am convinced that, going forward, we will find many professional players from our pool of talent,” says Rob.

Creating opportunities for young players is one of the SFC’s top priorities, and promotion to the PSL creates a pathway to do so, says Steve. “Kids in the wine region can come to the club at a young age and develop, going through all the structures to become a professional footballer.”

The SFC’s current goal is therefore to establish themselves in the PSL, he adds. Long term, they have their sights set on winning the league. “We want to be a really competitive team in South African football and continue to provide opportunities for young players to fulfil their dreams.”

If the SFC continues to follow its mission while keeping the local community and young, hopeful players top of mind, they will not only fulfil dreams, but grow in ways that will lead the club to be about so much more than football.

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