“I had no idea how hard this was going to be. Honestly, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I know why I’m here. I’m going to make it.”

As the elite first-team’s fitness coach, I’ve gotten to know Durin as an incredibly kindhearted, joyful human, and an exceptionally talented footballer to work with. Until recently, I didn’t know his story. It’s one you absolutely must hear. I’m honoured to present to you, Durin Phillips.

Early Years

 

I was born in Groote Schuur Hospital and have lived in Hangberg, Hout Bay, my whole
life. It’s a place that means a lot to me. You could say I was born with a ball at my feet.
When I was 1 year old, my grandad, Leon, nicknamed me “Bal” (Afrikaans for “ball”). At
the age of 4, I caught meningitis. The doctors and my family didn’t know if I was going to
make it, but luckily, I pulled through.

One of my earliest and favourite football memories is scoring 7 goals in an U7 game for
Bayview Rovers, a club owned by my two uncles. That part of life was very exciting, and
all about the process – learning the basics of what it took to play football.
Off the pitch, I can say that growing up was tough. I lived with my mom (Leonie),
grandparents, and two sisters. Shanonn is three years older and Sydney is three years younger than me. We all stayed in one house before my mom and older sister
moved into a separate apartment on the property. My grandpa was like my father at
the time, and so was my stepdad, Quinton, who I called “Daddy”.

They were both good male role models. My real dad was in jail. He got locked up while my mom was pregnant with me. I started getting to know him a bit from 3 years old. My mom split with Quinton after 12 years together. For a while, life was very hard for her, as a single mom raising 3 kids. She then got married to George, an ex-gangster who turned his life around for her. He was once a really good striker and has also helped motivate me over the years. I’m also very grateful for my grandma, Susan, who helped raise me and always made sure I had a cooked meal.

When I Left Home, Everyone Was Still Sleeping

 

Since age 8, I was lucky enough to play for one of the top academies in the country, at
Ajax Cape Town. In the early years, my grandad would drive me all the way to the
opposite side of Cape Town for training every day. Later on, the Ajax bus would pick
me up from school and drop me off at home after training. I was usually the last dropoff. My days started at 6am, waking up in time to catch a taxi to school at 7am. When I left home in the morning, everyone was still sleeping, and when I arrived home, sometimes at 10pm, everyone was already sleeping. Why did I do this? Football meant everything to me. I wanted to make it.

One of my Darkest Days

 

I was lucky to have a family and lots of support growing up, but there were many
challenges. In 2016, I remember being at training in Camps Bay, when the coaches
pulled me aside. I could tell something was wrong. My uncle picked me up and I was
very worried. It felt like I was going mad. He took me to the hospital. Everyone was in
tears. My grandad had passed away. When I realised what happened, I burst out crying
and went crazy. I knew what I was losing. He was the one always supporting me,
always believing in me. He was the one who believed in me and drove me all the way to
training at Ajax every day.

After losing my grandad, things were very tough. My family was pulled apart. My mom wasn’t working, and money was a big challenge. Due to circumstance I had to leave Ajax CT. I didn’t know what to do. I’d been there since 8 years old. Luckily, Hout Bay welcomed me back. Feeling loved by the community helps me to play my best football. At U18, we won the Coke Cup. HBUFC offered me a contract and it was time to focus on first-team football. At the U19 Bayhill Cup (the most prestigious U19 tournament in the country), SuperSport United scouted me and invited me to come trial in Pretoria.

I Signed A Professional Contract…

 

My biggest footballing role model growing up was Keagan Dolly. He played for both
Ajax and SuperSport, before heading off to play in Europe. After trialling for two weeks, I signed a professional contract at SuperSport. Following in my role model’s footsteps felt like a dream, but it soon turned into a bit of a nightmare. I felt like the other players were trying to push me out of the club. Players wouldn’t pass the ball to me at practice or in games. I would leave our accommodation and come back with things missing from my room. A year in and, after it happened a third time, I’d had enough. I called my mom and told her I want to come home now. Looking back, I’m tempted to say I regret it. I could’ve been playing PSL football. I feel weak. But then I remember to look where I am now.

Smart Decisions Lead me to Dubai

 

The season before last, I went to play for another club. But last season I wanted
to come back. So, I spoke to the coach and he said the goal was to win the
league. I remember thinking, “I’ll make sure!” I wanted to win the league and
uplift the community. I made the decision to change my lifestyle, habits, and
friendship circle. To become more professional. I stopped drinking, stopped
hanging out on the streets every day, and lost respect from old friends as a
result. But I’m glad I’m in this situation. Just look how it paid off. Three awards
at last season’s prize giving. Even better, HBUFC sent footage of me to
Fleetwood United Football Club, and they asked me to come play for them. I get
the opportunity to play football in Dubai, one step away from achieving my
dream of playing in England. Now, I realize just how far I can go with the right
mindset. Now, I get to be the role model.

I Want To Show Them There Is Another Way

 

The weekend before leaving for Dubai, Quinton organized a boat trip for me. He
motivated me by saying that the challenge of moving and playing overseas is nothing
compared to what I’ve been through. “You’ve been through harder things in life. You
can make it. Don’t doubt yourself.” Some of the old soccer players from the community
said to me, “Do it for the community, let the boys see.” That’s exactly what I plan to do.
Many make bad decisions and lose their way with drugs, alcohol, and women too.
They’re more interested in popularity. I want to show them that there’s another way.
They can think I’m a nerd or whatever. I want to show them.

Life Goes Full Circle

 

It’s funny how life works. It goes full circle sometimes. Like how my father went to prison while my Mom was pregnant with me, and then I started dating my girlfriend while she was pregnant, after her boyfriend passed away. He was a poacher, something quite common in our Hangberg community, and was shot before he could ever meet his daughter. Now, just like Quinton became my daddy, I have my own little girl that I love and take care of. My relationship with my real dad still hurts, like when he reads my messages and doesn’t reply, even when I’m about to leave for overseas to live my dream. I ask myself, “How can I be a dad to this girl, who isn’t even my own, but my own father couldn’t be a dad to me?” (At this point, I could feel the hurt and sadness that this kind-hearted young man did nothing to deserve, and we chatted a bit about perspective – how other people don’t see things the way we do or feel the way we do, based on their unique life experiences. He finished by saying that he wants to be a better dad and role model to his children, biological or not, and he’s going to bring them over to be with him as soon as he makes it.)

Durin’s On Fire In Dubai

 

Things were tough from the moment I landed in Dubai. Searching for my bag in an Arabic speaking world wasn’t fun. Moving into accommodation with three other boys, who don’t speak English, was a shock to the system. Waking up here for the first time, I wasn’t happy being away from home and outside of my comfort zone. On my first weekend in Dubai, there was a fire in our accommodation that narrowly missed our apartment. Shopping and cooking for myself has also been very challenging. Honestly, I’ve been very homesick and I’m missing Hout Bay a lot – the club, community, family, and friends. I already miss my girlfriend’s and mom’s food, socializing with family and friends, and playing FIFA with friends daily. I had no idea how hard this was going to be. At one point, I had even made up my mind to come home, until some kind of divine intervention happened. My friend from SuperSport, Ossie, who now plays for Polokwane City in the PSL posted a status update on WhatsApp – something he never does. In it, he said something like, “Put the hard work in. You never know where you’ll end up in a year’s time.

 

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