South African grannies catch World Cup fever

Wed Oct 21, 2009 10:05pm EDT
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By Ndundu Sithole

TZANEEN, South Africa (Reuters) - World Cup fever has spread to South African grannies, with hundreds of poor, elderly women in aprons and skirts fighting for the ball in township games.

Twice a week they swap domestic chores for football, donning soccer boots instead of their usual rubber sandals to play in local matches.

The 35 women on the Vakhegula Vakhegula squad -- meaning 'Grannies' in the local Xitsonga dialect -- range from 40 to more than 80 years old and live in a township near Tzaneen, 600 kms north of Johannesburg.

Competition is fierce among the eight teams in the region and the women say soccer is the best exercise, much better than their usual manual work at home and in the fields.

"I like to play soccer because it helps us. We were sick, but now our temperatures, our blood pressures...have gone down ...even our doctors are amazed when we go for a check-up," said 47-year-old Nari Baloyi, one of the youngest on the team.

Nora Makhubela has suffered six strokes yet the 83-year-old great-grandmother said kicking a ball around had given her strength she did not think she still had.

"My life has really changed...if I were to run with you I would beat you even though I'm much older," she said, smiling.

NEW PURPOSE   Continued...

<p>A grannie takes a penalty during a training session in Nkowankowa Township, outside Tzaneen in Limpopo province, about 600 kilometres outside Johannesburg, October 8, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko</p>