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World Cup fever grips African grannies

By Chris Murphy, CNN
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Elderly women's soccer
  • Grannies in a South African township have taken up football
  • The women have been inspired by World Cup fever in the country
  • Some women have reported improving health as a result of playing the game
  • The grannies may play a match as a curtain raiser to the tournament

(CNN) -- It seems no-one in South Africa can fail to be gripped by World Cup football fever.

The running, tackling, shooting, offside-appealing proof comes with a clutch of grannies who have been playing in a fiercely competitive league around the Nkowankowa township, 600 kilometers north of Johannesburg.

A squad of 35 nans down domestic duties twice a week to take to the field for their team Vakhegula Vakhegula, and compete against seven other teams in the region. Some of them even credit the beautiful game as having turned their lives around.

"I like to play soccer because it helps," said Nari Baloyi, who at 47-years-old, clocks in as one of the youngest players. "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."

One of the more elderly members, Nora Makhubela, is convinced that football has given her a new lease of life following the setback of suffering six strokes.

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"My life has really changed...if I were to run with you I would beat you even though I'm much older," she said, throwing down the gauntlet to the likes of Ronaldo, Messi et al.

"My life has improved because of the football. I wish God could bless the person who came up with this great idea."

The women contribute around $1 a month each for footballs, kit, and travel to the bi-annual regional tournament.

Dozens of noisy fans cheer on the players, with the distinctive sound of the vuvuzelas -- a South African trumpet -- creating an atmosphere that would be welcome at any European Champions League tie.

Makhubela is hoping her new-found love of the game extends long enough for her to be able to watch some of the matches when the World Cup begins in June.

"I pray every day to God to keep me alive until 2010. I would really love to watch the games," she said.

The team was formed three years ago to offer older women a chance to exercise and come together as a group, says community worker Beka Ntsanwisi.

"Some of them couldn't even walk properly and if they did something in their free time they would be knitting or sewing and sitting all the they run, shout, fight with keeps them young," she said.

Some of them couldn't even walk properly...[now] they run, shout, keeps them young
--community worker Beka Ntsanwisi

David Maake said his job coaching the team is the best he's ever had. "With young boys you need more money to achieve many, I may come with my stress...but I will laugh so much until I forget everything," he said.

The team have even suggested they play a curtain raiser for the main event itself, a brainwave the footballing authorities have said they will give serious thought to.

If the women do manage to take part as an hors d'oeuvre to the World Cup proper one thing is for sure, what they lack in skill they will make up for in enthusiasm.