North East footballers the unsung heroes of South Africa World Cup
PUBLISHED: 08:35 14 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:42 20 February 2013
The World Cup may have been a disaster for Fabio Capello's England, but a football squad from the North East did come back from South Africa with that winning feeling. Roger Tames explains
They can look back on their World Cup with genuine pride. Obviously were not talking about the under-achieving bunch who sold themselves (and the rest of us) well short before being crushed by Germany in the first knock-out stage.
The squad who can take much satisfaction from an unforgettable experience numbered around 150, were all from the North East and had to raise the money in sponsorship for their trip.
The team they played for was called Lions Raw, a Christian charity founded on Teesside with the motto Harnessing the passion of football fans to help others, home and away.
Half the squad were volunteers who were going to work on building projects at orphanages and schools near Durban, while the others were all football coaches looking to use the unique power of the beautiful game.
Among the football fanatics was a former Sunderland defender who was returning to South Africa for the first time since a five-year football career in the Seventies saw him voted the countrys Player of the Season. Maurice Hepworth, whose professional career was cut short by injury, was an outstanding young prospect at Roker Park during the Bob Stokoe era.
Football is an unbelievable medium to communicate with people and even in the poorest areas, the local kids just live for it, explains Maurice, who led a group of ten coaches to Inchanga, a township of a million and a half people 40 miles north west of Durban.
We wanted to use football to develop life skills in the Zulu communities - like teamwork, respect and responsibility.
When we turned up on the first morning, all we had was a municipal pitch which was just a dirt field really. Nobody even knew we were coming. So I just walked up to the first two young lads I saw and told them we were going to play football. In half an hour we had 50 youngsters and by lunchtime there were more than 120.
The Lions Raw volunteers were working in the area known as The Valley of a Thousand Hills, the epicentre of Africas AIDS epidemic where 70% of the population are HIV positive.
The coaches had all taken more than 100 bags of football kit to give away. Hepworth had superb support from his old club, Sunderland, where Academy coach and former skipper Kevin Ball had donated 50 complete Sunderland training strips plus a stack of other gear.
Maurice did manage to get to one senior World Cup game in Durbans dazzling new stadium - Spains shock defeat by Switzerland.
The contrast to what Id seen every day quite upset me, confesses the 56-year-old, who used to be a senior training executive but now runs his own coaching and leadership business.
The kids I was working with knew all the Bafana Bafana players but with no electricity, let alone TV, theyd never seen them play. They didnt know anything about the fantastic new stadiums.
Lions Raw has established key links in the townships and the builders left a permanent benefit from their labours.
And Maurices view on Englands performance? Embarrassing. But after what Id seen, it was the last thing that bothered me.