John Beresford - Volunteers in South African Village
PUBLISHED: 12:08 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:47 20 February 2013
Former football stars joined a task force of volunteers to help schoolchildren in Africa, as TV's Roger Tames reports
Newcastle United's former left back John Beresford still looks the part of the professional footballer - a cheeky chappie, with a worryingly permanent tan, an often dodgy barnet and a wardrobe of flashy gear you'd struggle to describe as high street fashion. So he's possibly the last person you might expect to have spent more than a week happily humping bricks in soaring temperatures to help renovate a remote school in a South African village.
Unless you know John, of course. As a key player in Kevin Keegan's team of entertainers, he was a tireless presence on the left side of the defence, full of the boundless enthusiasm that Newcastle's manager cherished. As the years have passed, and left backs have come and thankfully gone, Beresford's abilities have been increasingly appreciated. When a knee injury cut short his professional career after he'd moved on to Southampton, his bouncy personality and genuine love of the game quickly attracted regular media work - a good deal of it sitting next to me as a pundit for Tyne Tees TV and a mainstay of our former Soccer Night programme.
Bez, as he's universally known, won't mind any derogatory comments about his sartorial tastes. He's never minded a bit of attention. But he is a top bloke - one of the most compulsively likeable characters I've ever had the preasure to met. One thing he is not, though, is a brickie.
Inevitably, it was football that took him two hours drive north of Cape Town as one of a party of volunteers brought together by the Bobby Moore Fund for cancer research. Their destination was Noordhoek Primary School and Bez wasn't the only former Premier League star ready to graft. Somehow, he'd persuaded his big mate from United days, Rob Lee, to spend ten nights living under canvas, sharing two showers with about 40 others.
Lee was always a West Ham man at heart, so supporting Bobby Moore meant something special to him. The Bobby Moore Fund was set up in 1993 by Stephanie Moore in memory of her late husband, England's legendary World Cup-winning captain, who died of bowel cancer aged only 51. If heaven has a football team, the incomparable Moore is undoubtedly its skipper.
Volunteers have to raise a minimum of around 4,000 sponsorship to go on the trip with all profits above cost going to the fund as they carry out valuable community work. The Fund has projects in South America too, as John experienced when he went to work on a similar venture in Brazil in 2007.
'At least I knew how tough it was going to be but I'm not sure if Rob did,' said the man who cost Newcastle a now-modest 600,000 from Portsmouth. 'You're up at 6.30, it's non-stop graft and the temperatures reached 41 centigrade one day - and I loved it. 'We were building a new classroom so the school could take on more pupils and get valuable funding, as well as providing new toilets, a games area and completely repainting the whole place.
'I spent the first five days building a driveway. It was just rubble before, so I was digging out all the rocks before we could level it. Then I was carrying the bricks so we could block pave the driveway. 'Fortunately, some of the party are tradesman who knew what they were doing but I was really impressed with Rob. I hadn't told him too much about how hard the work was going to be, but he had no problem getting up early. 'He got very involved with it and coped 100 per cent better than I thought he would. He was cutting all the bricks to fit and was very good at it - till he slashed through the wire on the cutting machine. That literally gave him a bit of a shock.
'After building the driveway, we created a decent football pitch, clearing out more rocks, filling in the holes and making proper goalposts. I did some painting as well - only arty stuff for decorations. Hours on end with a roller painting the walls would have done my head in. I'd rather lug bricks.' The volunteers were drawn from as wide a range of lifestyles as possible, including solicitors, teachers and accountants. So what did they expect from two surely pampered, prima donna footballers?
'You could see they were weighing us up,' said Bez in that mischievous tone that betrays his enjoyment of surprising people. 'They thought we were just there for some publicity, that we'd be arrogant and aloof and wouldn't get stuck in with everybody else. Rob and I are just not like that.
'I think we also understand about team spirit and are used to working in a group. When it came to a few drinks around the camp fire at night, we could get people together - making a fool of myself has never bothered me.' The group duly met their deadline and handed over their work to the school in an official ceremony.
Then it was Beresford and Lee's turn to ply their own trade with a specially-arranged football match against an orphanage in Cape Town for their own World Cup final. Sadly, England just lost this time - there are evidently a few too many ultra-fit teenagers in this football crazy country.
It was the Professional Footballers' Association who first got John involved with the Bobby Moore Fund and its projects. The experience has had a profound effect. 'Back in my playing days I could never have imagined doing anything like this,' admits the Sheffield-born star. 'Now it's my therapy and my reality check. There are no mobile phones so I just switch off as well. I come back with my batteries re-charged mentally and feeling fitter.
'More importantly, it restores my belief in the goodness in people. Football can make you very cynical. You do feel you are putting a little bit back by doing something so worthwhile. Stephanie Moore is out here as well and not just as a figurehead. She works alongside everyone else. 'The Bobby Moore Fund is my charity now. My grandad died of bowel cancer and my Dad always idolised Bobby as a player. So it's personal for me.' Not for the first time, we can all applaud the dedication of John Beresford and Rob Lee.Well played lads.