We are Young Bafana

Chapter 9

Always have a backup plan


Simba never thought that he would come this close to losing his dream of becoming a professional soccer player.

Lying on the sterile bed, he flinched as the doctor injected anaesthetic into his cheek. He tried to remember the excellent free-kick he had scored the past weekend to distract him from the fear that was settling in his stomach.

As the doctor slowly stitched 24 stitches in to his face, Simba wondered how a day which had started with such promise, could end up being a complete nightmare.

The day had begun with the news that Simba had been granted extra hours as a part time employee at the Spaza shop down the road. Simba was excited as this meant his financial contribution to his mother’s household would increase. Every extra cent meant a great deal to his family. Things had always been tough for his mom as she struggled to raise four children on her domestic worker wages. And this month was no different.

Simba had worked extra hard in school today to finish all his schoolwork so that he could still fit in soccer practice before heading to work.



Balancing, school, work and soccer was a challenge, but Simba knew it would be worthwhile when he finally matriculated and hopefully got signed at a professional soccer club. Young Bafana Soccer Academy constantly reminded him of the importance of his education. At first Simba had not really seen the value of school, however, as he got older he realized that the dream of becoming a professional soccer player was not guaranteed. He had to have a backup plan.

Before leaving the shop, Simba tucked his wages deep into his pocket. Poverty was rife in his environment, and gangs ruled the streets at night. Though the community in which he lived took care of their own, there was always the criminal element lurking beneath the surface. Most nights he walked home with one of the other employees. However tonight Bhuti had left early to meet up with his girlfriend.

Simba’s nerves kept him alert. He had almost made it home when the three men appeared before him. They were older than Simba, bigger than Simba and had a glint in their eyes which made Simba’s blood run cold.

‘Give us your money!’ the words snarled out from the smallest of the three men.

In his hand, he held a broken bottle, the tip shimmering in the moonlight. Simba knew he was in trouble. He knew that as much as it tore his heart out to give up the much-needed funds, he would have to hand over his wages.



The next thing Simba knew, he was lying on the ground, clutching his face where blood pumped through his fingers. The small one had stabbed him. He had lifted his arm and swiftly brought the tip to just below Simba’s eye where he slashed open his face with one quick movement. The three rifled through his pockets as Simba hit the ground. Then vanished into the dark night of the township.

Simba had been fortunate. The glass bottle had sliced below his eye. Apart from a nasty scar, no lasting impact would occur. He was especially grateful that this attack would not end his soccer career.

This attack did make Simba realise that in a blink of an eye, your whole world could change. He remembered the words of his coach “Do not ever let anything get you down. Get up, work hard and keep going.”

These words had inspired himself and his teammates after not achieving the desired results after a particularly tough tournament. You could sign that contract to be a diski player and the following day, your life could be on a trajectory you never thought possible. All because of the invasion of someone else’s wishes on your life.

Never before had Simba understood the need for a backup plan as much as he did today. And never had he been so grateful that he had taken the lessons which Young Bafana had tried to instil in him to heart. Yes, he knew that Young Bafana would support him while he recovered from his injury. But he also knew that the life lessons they taught him, would be the ones which would set him on a steady course towards his future.


We are Young Bafana is a collaborative project between Goal.com and the Young Bafana Soccer Academy. This is a fictional story loosely based on real-life events and experiences of the community of Lwandle, a township in the Somerset West area in the Western Cape.  

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