In Paarl, Western Cape, there is a football club that is rich in talent, passion and heart. Cambio Soccer Club are serving up more than regular goals, more than wins – they are winning youngster’s hearts and building a positive future for many young people in their community. Stretching across the boundaries that so often separate communities, Cambio Soccer Club is putting their humanity first and building a soccer club Paarl can be proud of.
Growing up Lionel John Maharajah (also the current coach at the club) loved football, and enjoyed many a game in the park. He had a lot of talent and joined one of the local clubs, but soon became despondent with the lack of support from the coaches.
“These coaches never took the time to explain the game to me. Especially the part where there are 10 other players in your team and there is a formation that needs to be kept. I felt completely lost on the field of 11 players, nothing made sense. I felt let down by those coaches. I had the drive to be successful and I wanted to learn, but they focused on the players who already understood the game. I then stopped playing because of this bad experience,” says Lionel.
After a decade off the field, Lionel, now working as a musician and entertainer returned to build up his fitness and rekindle his love for the game. The field had other plans for him and while training he discovered his gift for coaching and his ability to bring out the best in young players and the team as a whole. He never wanted another player to feel the same disappointment and the bad experiences he had felt.
He saw the impact sport had on young people’s lives and how the beautiful game could bring about positive change, even in some of the most difficult circumstances. Sadly he also saw how much talent was being overlooked and subsequently lost from the sport. In 2018, Lionel along with parents Johan van der Walt and Jerome Fredericks established the Cambio Soccer Club in Paarl, Western Cape.
On the first day of practice 50 young people, girls and boys, turned up to play. The Cambio Soccer Club came with many promises; fun; fitness and a chance to play real football, but it also offered a place of safety, mentorship and community.
“The reason why I started the Cambio Soccer Club was to give young boys and girls the opportunity to try out and possibly play for Sundowns, or Kaiser Chiefs, or even Man United one day. There is so much talent in our communities and it so often gets lost,” says Lionel.
“So many of these young players fall off the bus because they don’t get the opportunity to focus on their football and get involved in other things. There is no one to mentor them or be a role model. Lionel is an incredible role model to a lot of these boys, he is someone they can really look up to,” says board member and parent Johan van der Walt, whose own son has benefited from being a part of the team and now plays in a higher league in Cape Town.
During the first two years, Cambio went from strength to strength, with Lionel building up each of the teams, including the girls team. During the first two years the club faced a number of challenges, including difficulty in securing a home venue and funding. Many of the parents could not afford club fees, transport and kit costs. However the club made a plan, run by volunteers, Lionel gave freely of his coaching services and parents supported financially where possible.
However 2020 saw the fledgling club face its biggest challenge – the Covid 19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and restrictions on sports meant that the teams were isolated and could not get any training in. Despite Coach Lionel’s best efforts online, motivation waned and many of the gains made were lost. The lockdowns had a tremendous impact on many families in Paarl and this was acutely felt by the Soccer Club.
“Sport develops people in all aspects of their lives, as an occupational therapist I look towards the well-being of our youngsters, we also look to mentoring and helping these youngsters with the difficult situations in their lives. For example how to cope with the bad issues in life, such as substance abuse and teach them social skills. We aim to build their confidence, as well as teach them the importance of being part of a team and giving them a sense of belonging. We want to create a safe platform for them, this is a family and they can come with their personal issues and we will try to help them,” says board member Jerome Fredericks who was himself a professional volleyball player and felt the benefits of sport personally in his own life.
As the world opened up again in 2021, so too did the Cambio Soccer Club and Lionel got the players back on the field. After a year of rebuilding, the club boasts very successful u9, u11, u13, u15, 17, u19, Second and First Teams. The girls’ team is yet to gain the momentum it had, however a number of the girls have returned and are currently playing in the boys’ teams.
In the last year success has come in many forms for the club – for some it is goals and victory, but for many it’s a sense of peace, belonging, safety and healing.
“Yes we are a football team, we want to win, we want to excel – our coach is very competitive – and if you look at our results we are doing so – but more than that our youngsters have become better citizens and it’s so wonderful to see how eager these youngsters are to become wonderful human beings with respect and dignity for themselves and each other.
“It is important for them to become better citizens, better family members, and better team members and to give them the responsibility to take ownership of their lives and develop their leadership skills.” Fredericks stated.
Coach Lionel hopes that as the team develops the players will be able to compete in the higher leagues and participate in trials in both Cape Town and the country as a whole.
“It’s been really awesome to be able to send some of the boys to these trials because they get the experience and when they come back you can see a huge difference in the way they think about football and they influence our players. We are improving so much because of these trials and the experiences these boys are having,”
The future looks bright for the Cambio Soccer Club but to get there they need support and are currently looking for sponsorships to cover transport, facilities, kit and trial costs. Anyone interested in providing sponsorship can contact the club on the following firstname.lastname@example.org
For media enquiries, interview requests or access to high resolution pictures please contact email@example.com or call 011 788 7632