Michael Brown at the World Cup

Michael Brown blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Kiwi star gives a little back

By Michael Brown

'I just love being around kids like this,' says Rory Fallon (above). 'This is where I belong.' Photo / Brett Phibbs
'I just love being around kids like this,' says Rory Fallon (above). 'This is where I belong.' Photo / Brett Phibbs

A herd of cows wander across the dusty pitch.

"Halftime," Rory Fallon yells out. There's nothing else for it. The game has to stop.

It's not every day Fallon plays a game of football that is stopped by cattle but it's not every day a World Cup player drops in at a daycare centre for orphans and underprivileged children.

At the weekend, Fallon and All Whites manager Phil Warbrick went to the Thuthukani Centre in the township of Tembisa on the outskirts of Johannesburg to play football and hand out All Whites training kit. It was their way of giving back to a country that had given the All Whites so much.

Children as young as 3 donned kit made for Mark Paston and Winston Reid, all six-foot-lots of them. It was a comical sight but also uplifting. The smiles on their faces were as wide as the economic gulf between Fallon and those orphans.

"It's special," Fallon says. "I wish [the whole team] could have had a day like this together.

Because it changes you a little bit, doesn't it?

"I just love being around kids like this. This is where I belong. I love it. I have had such an amazing time and our team has done amazingly well. It's been brilliant. It's put us on the map.

"It would have been brilliant to make the last 16, and I was a bit upset the other day, but when you look at this and you realise what they have to worry about, I don't have any worries. I have been absolutely blessed.

"You don't know what kind of poverty they're in. Neglect. You just don't know how these kids live their lives. So hopefully they can say today was a really good day."

It seemed to be. As many as 345 children aged up to 18 attend the centre. Many are orphans, some neglected and yet more still with parents who are infected or affected by Aids. It survives on government funding as well as donations but survival is the main objective.

No one really knew who Fallon was, and some fingered through the team booklet and stopped on the wrong page, but it didn't matter. What mattered was he was there. A World Cup player.

"This is great," says Ruth, a church liaison officer who works closely with the centre. "It's giving the children hope and also breaking down barriers. It's showing them that some people really care, and that's important.

"Showing up and saying hello and goodbye, it's okay and it's not okay. There's no continuity or building of trust. But when you have a soccer star coming here, it says that people care, no matter how successful or popular they are."

Only Fallon, Warbrick and team doctor Celeste Geertsema remain in South Africa.

Fallon and Warbrick are heading to Cape Town today for a family holiday. They will attend a couple of World Cup games, but Fallon has promised to head to another centre for underprivileged children to hand out more training gear. He's also likely to play another game because he can't help himself.

"This is the essence of football," he says as a child dribbles past.

"This is where it all starts. When I was a kid I used to play on - nothing like this - but on a park and pretended to be the best players and pretended it was a World Cup. To play in one is an amazing thing. To see the kids out here, they are just loving it."

Strangely, the cows didn't seem all that impressed.

- NZ Herald

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