Ajax has had a majority stake in Ajax Cape Town in Africa since 1999. In the ‘Message from Cape Town’ column, we feature the African Ajax team every week. In this edition, we see that the head of the youth academy does more than just manage. Once in a while, Dutch Corné Groenendijk gives some students a lift.
Lulu and Shaquille are two regular guys from Hout Bay in South Africa. The talents have been playing at Ajax Cape Town for years and use the prearranged transportation, which is organized by the club, to and from the Ikamva youth complex. Lulu and Shaquille don’t always get into the bus these days. They sometimes make use of their own driver, youth academy head Corné Groenendijk. “They almost always take the bus to Ikamva, but if it works out I take them home. That makes a difference for the other kids, who all live within 30 minutes of Ikamva. There are sixteen kids who all need to get home at the same time, and it takes about an hour and a half to get the all home. If the bus regularly needed to drive out to Hout Bay, which is on the other side of Cape Town, it would take even longer. Now they have time to do their homework for school.”
Groenendijk took over the duties of former academy head Maarten Stekelenburg last season, when his fellow Dutch man became head coach. Just like many other Dutch people in Cape Town, he lives in Hout Bay - a nice neighbourhood with big houses. But that’s not the only part of town. There’s also a Township, with scantily built homes which sometimes don’t consist of much more than a few boards of corrugated iron. That’s where talents Lulu and Shaquille live.
“Shaquille is somewhat better off than Lulu, because his parents are still together and they both have a job”, says Groenendijk. “Lulu just lives with his mother in a corrugated iron board house. I know that he doesn’t always have much to eat and that’s why I give him some food now and then. As far as I know, that doesn’t cause any resentment among the other kids at the club. And if it did, I would have noticed it in the past year and a half. They all know that Lulu doesn’t have the easiest life. And now he has a bit of good fortune that I give him something.”
Groendijk looks forward to the forty minute journeys: “For me, the rides with Lulu and Shaquille are very educational. We talk about how the training was, or the match. But I also learn about the culture and life in their community. At the club, we say that the youth players need to be in bed by ten o’clock. Then I go to their house and see with my own eyes how strong they need to be to do that. Everyone lives on the street and they don’t go in until late.”
More and more kids from Hout Bay are coming to Ajax Cape Town’s academy. Soon, they’ll need to draw straws for spots in Groenendijk’s car. “Maybe we need to add another bus soon. But an assistant coach lives in Hout Bay, too. We’re trying to get him a car. Maybe he can give some guys a lift once in a while, too.”