This past December saw 16 football clubs and four netball teams participate in the four-day 2021 Sammy Seabi Football tournament in Polokwane. Even scorching heat, rain and wind could not deter the passionate players and a cheering crowd of over 1,000 spectators. Sponsored by the Nedbank Proud of my Town programme and co-sponsored by Far Post Media, the tournament once again testified to the unifying power of sport. After two years of dealing with isolation and the devastating effects of a global pandemic, the tournament was about so much more than sport. It was about celebrating the privilege of being alive! Guest blogger Montsho Matlala was there and shares the story.

After the rain eventually settled down, leaving small puddles here and there, Makeketela Liverpool FC defeated Brave Lions 1-0 to become the 2021 champions of the Sammy Seabi Foundation Football Tournament. Despite the weather, a cheering crowd gathered at the Mongwaneng playground in Ga-Mamabolo outside Polokwane in Limpopo on Christmas Eve.

The victory by Liverpool in the third annual tournament ignited excitement from supporters. Some took to social media to convey congratulations for the whopping R40,000 prize and saluted the excellent performance by the scorer Punisher and his lieutenants.

Netballers also had the opportunity to show off their skills and although this tournament did not include a financial prize for the netballers, this by no means dampened their enthusiasm! Two teenage participants, Lehlogonolo Magagane and Koketso Thosago expressed their views on the tournament.

Lehlogonolo believes that the games will help her and her peers to preserve their youthfulness and focus on their studies.

“Look, we are off the streets now, away from temptations such as alcohol abuse, crime and all those bad things such as love affairs. Every time I am at games, I feel lively. I play netball and I love writing the scores. Our minds become accustomed to the fact that there is playtime and study time which, when rightly connected, together could produce good personalities out of us,” she says.

Koketso shares her feelings: “Every time since the tournament started, I make sure I jump to the joy of sport and summer air. This is a wonderful time; I wish there was no COVID-19 in the world so that we can refresh ourselves for the next academic year.”

The 16-team packed tournament kicked off under the scorching sun on 21 December. Players and spectators had to contend with the elements as strong wind blew away the tents at the side of the grounds on the third day. On Christmas eve, rain brought the games to a brief halt as players and spectators dashed for shelters.

Minutes later the rain subsided and ultimately ceased – and to the relief of fans, activities resumed on the pitch still riddled with diminishing puddles.

There was never a dull moment since day one of the tournament. Live commentator, Gaohengwe Anthony Olebogeng Atong or “Siwelewesh” belted it out for everyone around and on Facebook for those away to hear and see. Siwelewesh’s broadcast added value to social cohesion by playing out the linguistic mutual intelligibility between his Setswana language and Sepedi. The audience, being Sepedi speaking, loved every moment of it and he often had them in stitches, laughing at his humour!

When injuries occurred on the field he would say, for example, that “the pitch has turned into Baragwanath hospital”, but then went further to even mention that the big hospital in Soweto was founded in 1941. Siwelewesh also fed fans with brief backgrounds of several players including their places of origin.

Standing and often kneeling down on the touchline when he was tired of sitting on a small chair, Siwelewesh held the microphone to his mouth as he related the ongoing drama before his eyes.

The sports bustle at Ga-Mamabolo also attracted small traders. Moremadi Mampa and her partners, for example, established a makeshift spaza for the duration of the tournament. “I sell pap and vleis, cooked vegetables and soft drinks. For those who just want to keep their taste buds nice, sweets and snacks are available. I am very thankful to the organisers and customers alike, the support is good,” said Mampa.

Jeremy Ngobeni went around selling various assorted snacks and loose draws (single cigarettes). “I am happy selling here but just because there are young people, I look twice and ask some questions to loose draw buyers. Not that I make a lot but the difference is there”, Ngobeni admitted.

The host, Sammy Seabi who holds a diploma in finance says, “Keeping people busy with sport, especially boys and girls makes my heart and soul happy. Talents are put on stage here for scouts to see. In addition, players gain physical fitness and sharpen their skills as they compete.

“When it comes to youth, let us admit that there are some who are not sailing smoothly academically, but they are talented sports persons. It is here that we prepare them to ultimately be able to make a living from their talents one day.”

The Sundowns’ middle fielder on loan to Chippa United brought his little niece Samora Molepo to watch actions and styles displayed by the players. Samora expresses her feelings, “I love sport and happy to see people, young and old joined together in happiness at sports fields.”

In the ladies’ soccer, Morning Stars FC outshone Mantane Soccer Development 5-4 on penalties, whilst in the boys under-17 football, Green Aces beat Medium Fighter 5-4 on penalties.

Now the clubs, sponsors and fans are looking forward to the end of this year for another exciting tournament.

“More sparks should fly here during December 2022!” says Seabi, expressing his optimism!

A big thank you to the Sammy Seabi Foundation and their team of organisers for hosting this successful event!

Images courtesy of the Sammy Seabi Foundation.