Funky Dube is a man with a passion: coaching soccer to the local neighbourhood children. A previous club soccer player, for the past four years he has coached over 200 children without payment. “When I played football we played it to entertain people, not for money.” You might think that what Funky does is remarkable, but what makes his story truly remarkable is that Funky is a paraplegic.
He was born and schooled in Soweto and that is where he played his soccer. In 1986 his mother passed away. He stopped playing soccer and moved to Kwa-Zulu Natal to complete his Matric and in 1991 he started playing soccer again.
In 1994 he visited a friend. “When I arrived another guy had a gun pointed at my friend. When I tried to talk him out of shooting my friend, he got angry and then he shot me.”
Funky was taken to Baragwanath Hospital and then to Naspruit for rehabilitation to, as he puts it, “learn and understand life in a wheelchair”. “I was there for five months during which time I worked really hard to be able to walk again. I exercised and trained. But I could not walk and after five months in rehab I came home.”
Funky says life continued as normal. “Nothing really changed – my friends and family were all very supportive. All that changed was me.”
As he sat at home, he watched the children playing soccer in the street. “I outside in the street. The children would ask me questions. Then one day they asked me if I would start a football team. It was a dream for me, but I did not know where to start.”
In 2004 he formed the Soweto Young Stars, entering the league a year later. They have three teams, an U13, U15 (in the SAFA Soweto South Eastern league), and an U21 team (in the SAFA Soweto Metropolitan league). He coaches the U13 and U15. This year the teams will move up into the U15 and U17 divisions.
Although the teams practice nearby, matches are often played away. “Transport is a problem on match days, but it is not our only problem. Many of the children who play in the team have parents who cannot afford to pay the registration fees or any fees at all. As a result we are always looking for assistance in this regard. We also need support for facilities and equipment.”
In 2005 help came from ComutaNet, a Primedia company specialising in the South African commuter market through media platforms that range from the interior and exterior of buses, taxis and trains to station platforms, taxi ranks and trailer advertising, as well as radio and TV offerings. ComutaNet has provided the Soweto Young Stars with players’ kits, soccer jerseys, training bibs, sports bags, footballs and league registration fees.
Funky married his high school sweetheart, Jacqueline. “I needed to have someone with me who understood me, and Jacqueline knew me before my accident and after my accident.” Late last year Jacqueline’s mother passed away and since then she has been living with her family to help them. “My children are also there with her – we have three children - and I miss all of them terribly.”
Funky feels very unhappy that he cannot support them as a husband and father should. “I went to Access College to apply for a computer course, but after I wrote the aptitude test the college closed. I would like to do a computer course and work on a computer. I know I would do well and then I would be caring for my family properly. A computer is the future.”
His other concern is getting to soccer training. “It is difficult for me to get to training as it is such a long way from my home. Normally someone has to push me there, as I cannot push myself for such a long time.” He has had two operations on his wrists already, due to excessive pushing, and may soon need another.
But get to training he will. Funky epitomises the Soweto Young Stars motto “Beating the Unbeatables” with his upbeat attitude, perseverance and nurturing of the young children’s passion for soccer.
“I want to see my boys play for the big teams and Bafana Bafana.” One of the boys Funky coached is already playing for Kaiser Chiefs.
We asked him what keeps him going: “I have told myself that I must not think about what happened to me. Instead of dwelling on the past I focus on the next level of life. Worrying about what happened would kill me.”