Primary School 93 in Krakow has a genuine Johan Cruyff Court. The fenced football pitch was opened amid drizzling rain this afternoon by the entire Holland squad in Bronowice, a sleepy, non-descript district in the southern Polish city. It lies a few kilometres from the hotel where the Dutch national football team are billeted for Euro 2012, which gets underway later this week.
High-rise concrete buildings abound and so do children apparently. There are 6,000 of them, who have to make do with just three playgrounds.
Now, though, they have a modern 42mx28m Orange Cruyff Court (named after Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff, or Johana Cruyffa in Polish), with bright-green artificial turf and modern solar panels.
Funded by the players
The Krakow Court was funded “out of the players’ own pockets,” as the press statement reads. The Holland squad “wishes to leave a tangible legacy to the local community and offer children a safe spot close to home where they can play football.”
The opening ceremony was informal and attended by a large high-level delegation of Dutch football officials and prominent local citizens, including the mayor and the school principle. And, of course by a veritable battalion of international sports media, as is every outing by the Holland stars.
All listened to Polish children singing the national football hymn “Hup Holland Hup” and then watched a football mini tournament involving Dutch and Polish youth teams. It was won by The Young Lions, who had been flown over for the day from Amsterdam by special charter.
Then came the highlight: the arrival of the Dutch stars. They took on the local schoolkids for a quick game of football and fun, after skipper Mark van Bommel had spoken.
"We’d like to give our hosts, the people of Krakow, something in return,” the tall player said.
“When we were young, we used to play football on small plots of grass or in little urban squares and we just took them for granted. But here in Bronowice, kids have very limited options, indeed.”
Playing football is a great way to develop social skills, Van Bommel stressed. “You learn how to deal with victory and cope with defeat. You learn that you must help each other to achieve results - lessons that will be useful in later life.”
Catalyst for change
The Orange Cruyff Court is the 158th of its kind and the 22nd outside the Netherlands. Orange pitches have emerged in Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Rotterdam, the home venues of the Dutch national team. Two years ago, the Oranje donated a court to Johannesburg, as a token of gratitude for the city’s hospitality during the World Cup in South Africa.
The courts offer children an incentive to engage in sport. Around fifty percent of them are known to do more sports once a Johan Cruyff Court has emerged in their neighbourhood. The courts have a positive effect on community life, offering a central point where people can meet up and where youths will play football instead of loiter about.
Johan Cruyff Courts have become catalysts for social change. However, “more is needed to make it all work,” in the words of Royal Dutch Football Association Director Bert van Oostveen, who also attended today's opening.
“You need people to shepherd the whole process, people who know the neighbourhood inside out, who know what it takes to keep youths on the straight and narrow.”
Hence the Dutch FA’s World Coaches project, under which 50 youth workers in Krakow are now being trained.
"The project aims to teach local coaches football teaching skills as well as what we call ‘life skills’, lessons of life that are needed to tackle social issues. And in that sense, we hope to provide a lasting legacy.”