Community, Football, and Change: The Story of Real Ideas FC

Author: Mandy Mbekeni
Photos: Matt Wareley

Real Ideas FC is one of Gugulethu’s proudest achievements. Its history spans over five decades. The club’s most recent revival was part of a community development initiative to use football for social change. 

‘There were about eight of us who made part of the team of people who revived the team after its dissolution,’ recalls Zola Hlakula, a former Real Ideas FC player. ‘Part of that was because we wanted to play football in our community field. We couldn’t because we weren’t part of a football team. And so, we essentially married our passion for football with the need to play for an official football team. 

Gugulethu was established in 1960 due to overcrowding in the first black residential areas of Langa, the oldest township in the country. Initially, barrack-like homes or hostels were built in Gugulethu to provide boarding quarters for single male workers who had to leave their families in rural South Africa due to the apartheid era’s influx control and migrant labor system, which allowed the actual workforce to come to urban South Africa. In context, many people who live in Gugulethu migrated from elsewhere, most often the Eastern Cape, which is dominated by Xhosa-speaking people. The violence in the area is both structural and historical. It is institutionalized in terms of qualities of power, which in turn restricts several opportunities, especially for young people. 

Real Ideas FC has a long history with timelines that intertwine and separate as the infinity sign does. Ricardo Jacobs, the club’s manager and former player, has seen its birth along with its vertical line. It has had many names, faces, people who have since passed on, moved on, and walked beside 

it. He makes up the group with the latter. ‘I just know that Real Ideas was once Imicabango eright, the context of the name or its history escapes me but I remember it being Imicabango eright,’ remembers Jacobs. 

The club has always followed a communal ethos, as a result, its first club house at one its director’s home. ‘We didn’t have a clubhouse initially. This was very early in the club’s inception, and the elders – a group of men who make up the board – would have to meet at a local drinking spot until Xolisa’s grandfather suggested that they take their meetings at his house.’ Ostracised from international sports because of its domestic racial discrimination, South Africa announced a new sports policy in 1976 to allow interracial sports competitions. 

‘The club took a hit during this time because of a separation in thoughts around multiracial sports. If you remember, Real Ideas FC was a black community-based football club that played non-racial sports. Six teams from around here stuck to non-racial sports. I’m sure we all know the intersection of sports and politics in apartheid South Africa and its implications, so we refused to join multiracial sports because of that. That was a critical moment in the club’s history because it was the first time there ever was a divide between players, the coach, management, etc., and the future looked bleak,’ recalls Ricardo. 

During this time, the future of Real Ideas hung in the balance. Elaborate discussions took place over two days to mend the situation and figure out a way forward. Politics were the engineers, and now the question begs: How do you take care of your players, whose sole mission is to be the best in the sport and prove themselves amongst others without jeopardizing management’s credibility and the subsequent folly of being a sell-out? 

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, says a quote by a writer whose name I cannot recall. The club’s journey has been marked by overcoming obstacles and embracing progress. As such, management oversees the club’s day-to-day running with a combination of short-long term goals.

The board comprises the elders, an endearing term the team has called its oldest members. The club’s determination eventually paid off, making a name for itself, and the clubhouse still exists today. Additionally, they feed off the support they receive from the community and the players’ parents to ensure their name exists in places and conversations beyond Gugulethu. 

To help support the club, ikeja has sponsored the team with a new kit and Wi-Fi. Xolisa Sonti noted that the kit is perfect and will instill a sense of pride in the players. Talking about their collaboration with ikeja, Sonti said: ‘The collaboration came through Bonga Gqoboka, the club’s coach, and we took it from there. We were very aligned in many things, which was a green flag. We turned fifty last year and were looking to improve some areas of the team and host a tournament to celebrate that milestone. We had the tournament in February, and ikeja came through with prizes, including vouchers for players who had done well in the tournament, the kit, and Wi-Fi for the entire team.’ 

The club can streamline processes with reliable internet access, making it easier for new talent to join and flourish. Their unwavering goal is to inspire more young people to join its ranks, nurturing them as soccer players in their community and beyond. More than that, the club seeks to make the club a launching pad for its other goals, which include its social responsibility goals. 

Real Ideas Football Club’s incredible journey is a testament to the power of passion, which Zola describes as doing something with joy no matter the results. As they continue from pitch to league, they become beacons of hope for aspiring football players in their community and beyond. Through dedication, hard work, and a shared vision, Real Ieas Football Club has become more than just a team; it has become a symbol of triumph and inspiration, proving that dreams can come true when nurtured with determination.