Thanks to the dedication of generations of parents the Virginia United Football Club celebrates its 50th anniversary this year
Back in 1968 a group of Durban North parents decided it was time to start a local football club for their children. In November of that year the Virginia United Football Club was founded with five teams ranging from U10 to U14.
According to the club’s official website, the founding parents were a Mr and Mrs Nelson, Mr and Mrs Barber, Mr and Mrs Fitzel, Mrs Morasutti, Mr Bowman and Mr Mullholland.
They initially played in a park neighbouring Mrs Morasutti’s residence until, “thanks to the persistence of Paula Barber and the help of the then Mayor Trevor Warman”, the club moved to Danville Park. Through the decades it increased in size until the early 90s when it was recognised as the largest amateur football club in the southern hemisphere.
“We had 33 teams then,” says Eric Whittaker, who first played for the club in 1969. The former Durban City player was invited to play for the club in the senior league and has been a proud member ever since. “I was a player, a former chairman, coached my son Ryan, and am now coaching my grandson Tristan.”
Eric is part of the team who has joined me at their Virginia Circle football ground to reminisce » and talk about the club’s illustrious 50-year history.
With us are committee member Glenn Allen, another stalwart having first played for the club when he was six; director of coaching Adriaan Swanepoel, who has been with the club for over 30 years; and Wally Watt, a former Natal rugby player who is now coaching Virginia United football.
“We can’t forget to pay homage to our current chairman, Mohsin Arbee and another early member Les Crawford, who played for the club back in the day and coached here for 35 years,” says Eric. “His son Grant played professionally overseas and Les only stepped back about two years ago.”
I ask about some of the other “famous” VUFC members. They rattle them off – Bruce Broughton, Kevin Nel, Richard Gomes, Grant McDade, Lawrence Chellin, Robbie Burns and Garth Alladyce.
“Well-known footballers who assisted the club after completing their professional careers include Brian Peterson, Francis “Twiggy” Exall, Ken Denysshen, Errol Hopkins, Henry Hauser and Frank McGuigan,” says Eric.
More recently Adriaan tells me about Thambo Mzoneli who he coached and is now playing for Banyana Banyana (the SA women’s football team).
“When the Premier League played here in the 80s we would have up to 3 000 spectators,” he says. “The biggest crowd we’ve had recently was when the Durban Central Football Association – with around 90 teams – used our grounds earlier this year.”
While there have been challenges over the years, the club – which currently has 23 teams with players aged from six to seniors – boasts having its senior side currently top of the log with Villa Park, with only a few games to go.
At the time of the interview, its U11 side (coached by Glenn Allen and Alan Norton) was also unbeaten and top of the log.
“The club is very community-based and initially we only had members from the area, but we are happy to say that today, thanks to our parents and sponsors, we also bring in disadvantaged children from neighbouring informal settlements and townships,” said Adriaan. “They have become assets to our teams and an important part of our VUFC family, but we do have to find the funds for their transport.”
Another challenge they face is the fact that they are only given a six-month annual lease from the eThekwini City Council, while still having to maintain the grounds.
“We are lucky our club members are so generous,” said Adriaan. “This year they donated funds to maintain the grounds, which included fencing and lighting, but we are unable to upgrade the building facilities without council permission.”
Wally says you also must consider that the club shares the grounds with the DHS Cricket Club, which brings its own set of challenges since they are not “in control” for six months of the year. Still, the club can boast being the largest in the Greater Durban area along with Westville.
“We are also extremely lucky to have Hirsch’s on board as our major sponsor,” said Eric. “They have been with us since 1987 and Allan Hirsch’s two grandsons play for us today.”
I ask the guys what keeps them coming back for more after being involved with the club for so many years? “We all do it for the love of the beautiful game,” says Glenn. “It’s about our passion for the sport and our memories of the fun we had here when we were younger.”