I've sat face to face to interview Ryan Giggs, Thierry Henry and even the great Eusebio, but none had my stomach in a knot quite like this interview with X

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.

The HBUFC X-Factor

 
 

X is one of the most composed humans I’ve ever encountered. He’d tell you your house is burning down in a controlled town and voice and in the same breath tell you exactly how he was going to solve the problem. The man keeps it cool. Which is why just five minutes in, it caught me completely off guard that after a simple questions about his mother, he put his knife and fork down, lowered his head, brough his thumb and index fingers to his eyelids in what was an impossible attempt to stop the tears that now ran down his wrist and dripped off his forearm and cheeks and mixed with the pepper sauce on his plate. But rather than me tell you his wonderful story, I’m going to let X tell you it himself.

They Call Me ‘X’

 
 

I’m Xolela, which means ‘Peace’ in English. They call me ‘X’ because it’s difficult for non-Xhosa people to pronounce the X in the Xhosa way (The ‘x’ in isiXhosa is pronounced with a click that’s hard for the untrained tongue to pronounce properly).

When I was just a baby, my mom brough me from the Eastern Cape to Hout Bay. She got a job at a fish factory in the harbor, but it didn’t pay the bills. So, then she started buying fish in the harbor and bringing it to IY (Imizamo Yethu) and selling it in the township. It was tough. My father and her had separated so she was doing life on her own. She had to run away from her parents because my dad had disowned me. Claimed I wasn’t his. She cam here knowing nothing. So, she tried to be strong for me. She… (At this stage the tears start flowing and the pain and the pride are raw. For a moment, it is not X the assistant coach sitting opposite me, it is six-year-old Xolela in awe of his mother’s strength and perseverance. Two minutes pass and X composes himself and continues). Yho… so fast forward the years and at age six I started playing soccer.

Soccer Is Where I Found Happiness

 
 

My mom’s only rule was that I did school properly and that I maintained my grades. But soccer was where I found my happiness. I would go to the soccer field with the the neighbors and spend entire days from morning to night playing. Barefoot in the mud, in the dust, it didn’t matter. I joined a local team in Hout Bay called Hungry Lions and was mentored by a guy called Andile. He began my soccer education. I got better.

Ajax Comes Knocking…

 
 

By the time I was 13, I was very good. Ajax Cape Town extended an invitation to me to come on trial (Ajax Amsterdam bought a 51% stake in a professional outfit in Cape Town and started unearthing talents like Benni McCarthy and Steven Pienaar and so every young player’s dream in CT was to get invited to a trial at Ajax CT). I turned up with 500 kids from around the peninsula. I did well. But then I did something that I still don’t fully understand why I did it. It represented a crossroads in my path. From those 500 boys, they selected 100 to come back the following weekend. I had at that time recently made friends with a white boy, Justin. Justin was from Camps Bay, from a rich family. For some reason, he really liked me and invited me to his birthday which was on the same day as the second trial with Ajax.

Invited Into A World I Didn’t Belong…

 
 

Imagine me, a township boy being invited to a day out zip-lining and enjoying this rich white kid’s birthday, something that seemed impossible and something I wanted to be part of. Invited into a world I didn’t think I belonged in. So, when the call came in from a Kevin at Ajax asking me where the hell I was, I just apologized and said I was halfway to Simon’s Town and couldn’t make it to the trial even if I wanted to. Kevin said I was crazy. That this opportunity doesn’t come around for everyone. In my mind at the time, I believed I would have another opportunity at Ajax. I was wrong.

 

Hellenic Signed Me!




Fast forward and I’m 16 and Hellenic (the famous Cape Town professional team that was once coached by the late England International John ‘Budgie’ Byrne) signed me.
But over the next two years, things got a bit messy. Between Hellenic’s franchise being sold, and trials with professional clubs in Joburg that would have meant me dropping out of school which my mother would not allow, I had to make a decision.


My Hout Bay United journey begins…..

 


In 2015, I got a call from Jeremy (Jeremy Elson, Founder of HBUFC) who told me about his Hout Bay United football vision. That they had acquired a SAB franchise (4th division) and they were trying to bring back all the great players that had to leave the bay to chase their dreams of topflight football. Jeremy wanted to give Hout Bay a team of their own. A team that could take Hout Bay to the PSL (the South African Premier Soccer League). I came back home.

We Won The League!




We played SAB that season. We won the league and then won promotion to the ABC Motsepe League. Still studying, I wanted to give it another full go as a player. But Jeremy had other plans. He wanted me to also help coach the team. So, at 23, I became a player-coach. From the start, I knew I had to up my own game. If I wanted these players to respect me, demanding it was not an option. I had to earn it. And the only way to do that in my experience is to make them feel like they are learning something. They responded. In part because they knew I could play the game, but also because of how I saw the game. I discovered I could really coach the game. [I] thank Hout Bay and Jeremy for this opportunity so early. As a player, you will never go on forever, but as a coach, I was suddenly given longevity in the game. I got a new path early and the dream now is to one day go to Europe in a coaching capacity.

The Unique Challenges Of Making It Out Of A Hout Bay Township




It’s not every day that a young talented player coming from a township in Hout Bay has a meal. I know I didn’t always have food in me. And then you must go out and compete against kids who have proper nutrition. You’re expected to perform at the same level. For that very reason, we have started a lunchbox scheme’ in our youth teams. It’s funny because you will see the guys in the team from more affluent areas in Hout Bay not too interested in the food, but the boys from Hangberg and lY get stuck in properly. 

Then there is sleep. So, townships are not quiet places. Everything is on top of each other and so maybe a Tuesday might be quiet. But as we approach Thursday or Friday the township comes alive. Music, noise, drinking, drugs… go try to get a good night’s sleep in a township. Friday till Monday is chaos. These are the challenges we are trying to address as Hout Bay United. To level the playing field and to allow our kids to compete like for like. Where ability and not circumstance decides the game. 

Perhaps most importantly, most households in a township are single-parent homes. So, as hard as parents are trying to get food for the household to ensure physical development, emotional development often just doesn’t happen.

Hout Bay United is Providing a Way

 
 

At Hout Bay, we are currently trying to maneuver and work together with local LFAs (Local Football Associations) to create opportunities through sharing resources. We’re trying to share our vision with these LFAs and create integration. And it’s working! We have white kids from the valley playing football with township kids from lY and Hangberg. What you look like and where you are from no longer matters. That’s a huge win. 

Real friendships are being forged across cultures and that divide is really being bridged. Where we need to focus and where the challenge is, is to ensure that we continue to fulfil promises we’ve made to the community to ensure their continued buy-in for this project to keep gaining momentum. That’s why I want to say thank you to the people reading this letter. You help us keep our promises by your support and funding the program. You ensure that the next generation of young men and women coming out of townships here in Hout Bay never feel like there is any world in which they don’t belong.

X-citing next steps

 
 

Xolela is about to embark on the trip of a lifetime. He’s off to shadow some of Europe’s top coaches and gain invaluable coaching experience. Germany and England are on the itinerary. We look forward to implementing the lessons he learns at HBUFC. Be sure to keep up to date with X’s journey by following our social media accounts.
Safe travels, X!

The Dugout

 

Finally, we are excited to announce our new Elite Men’s Coaching Team for the up-and-coming ABC Motsepe League Season

Our new Head Coach, Borja Herranz, has a UEFA A license and experience coaching in both Spain and Oman. He is also the Lead Coach of FTIFA Cape Town, placing him in the ideal position to link the two organizations. We won’t give too much away, other than saying he undoubtedly has what it takes to get the best out of every player and the collective team, while driving the club forward towards its ambitions.

Former PSL striker, Nathan Paulse, is our new Individual Development Coach. As the founder of football consultancy Starting XI Revolution, he will look to utilize both his experience of playing elite-level football and his holistic approach to player development in order to challenge our players to grow to new heights. So far, his contribution has been as valuable as he is tall – and he’s 6 foot 3!
Noel Cousins needs no introduction in South African football. The prolific former.

Arcadia Shepherds striker involved with the development of the Old Mutual Academy and the famous Ajax Cape Town Academy has taken on the role of Technical Director, overseeing the development and integration of our youth team players into the first team squad. Noel has been known to speak many wise and brilliant words, before cracking a joke that leaves the room in stitches.

Xolela Nude is our very own Pep Guardiola. Our Assistant Coach brings tactical nuances and inspirational ideas to the group. The man is as cool as a cucumber and his smile can light up a room. As the man of the moment in this newsletter, you’ve already read a lot about him. So, we’ll just add that he may be an undercover West Ham fan and that the sky is truly the limit for his career.

Brent Levenson is our new Fitness, Health and Wellbeing Coach. With a Master’s degree in sports psychology and experience working at Ajax Cape Town, he has the pedigree, love and passion needed to get the very best out of every single HBUFC player, while being responsible for both their physical and mental wellbeing. As the fitness coach, he’s happy to play “bad cop” when necessary, but he’s also the first point of care and compassion when injury strikes.
Siya Ntozini is a former first team player, and now an important part of the coaching team. As the Team Manager, he serves as the link between players and coaches, and is a trusted figure within the group. Siya brings unity to Hout Bay United, and his contributions during training and team meetings are invaluable. He’s also the go-to referee for internal friendlies, which can be a challenging task.

Mava “Mara” Bacela is the man entrusted with getting the best out of our goalkeepers.
Our new Goalkeeper Coach has a host of experience coaching at various institutions all around Cape Town and is also part of the BBK Goalkeeper Academy. Mara’s goal is to build strong goalkeepers that have ambition to play in the highest leagues in SA or abroad. We’re confident that our goalies are “in safe hands”.

Mangaliso “Shakes” Ntombanais the new HBUFC Scout. The man lives and breathes football. His friendly demeanour and football knowledge are two reasons why he’s well-known and respécted all over Cape Town. Shakes always makes a valuable contribution and is constantly on the lookout for new talent in various positions identified by the coaching team. He describes himself as a lover of football and dogs.

Jody Martins is our new Mental Performance Coach. Jurgen Klopp’s 2021/22
Liverpool team was described as ‘mentality monsters’. Their never-give-up attitude and ability to seemingly score goals out of nothing enforces the belief that the mental component of professional sports is what sets the very best apart from the rest. Lucky for us, Jody’s mission is to create a cohesive group of HBUFC Mentality Monsters!

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