Ethan Brooks: How it all started 17 years ago

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Ethan Brooks’ meteoric rise has been nothing short of divine! A clergyman could actually preach a storm off his football journey.

Everything that is fast unfolding in his fledgling career is traceable as far back as 17 years ago behind the closed doors of a Sunday school class.

The story is better told by his paternal grandmother, Yvonne Brooks, who turned 74 earlier this year. The setting was the Rhema Bible Church, whose main auditorium on Hans Schoeman Street in Randburg, seats 7250 congregants.

Rhema Bible Church in Randburg

His parents, Fabian and Melanie, had attended a meeting with a pastor and counted on granny to pick up their boy from Sunday school.

Parents picking up their kids from Sunday school had to queue to sign indemnity cards, pictured below, before being handed the little ones.

While at the back end of the waiting line, granny heard the Sunday school teacher, later introduced to her as Kotie, ask a question at the top of her voice. Her wispy voice echoed ‘who are the parents of this kid’?

Naturally, everyone who stood in that queue looked in the direction of the teacher with eagerness to see if that wasn’t their child. Immediately, granny, who was 57 at the time, noticed it was her grandson, Ethan.

She then stepped forward with rampant curiosity. “What has Ethan done?” she asked herself as she paced towards the teacher. “The moment I got there, Kotie was so excited and she said ‘this boy will be a professional athlete one day’,” Yvonne narrates the story to FARPost in a telephonic interview.

Kotie had just had a glimpse of little Ethan kicking a ball in their Sunday school class. That alone left her convinced the toddler was destined for dizzy heights.

And so, granny excitedly passed on the message to Ethan’s parents. Clearly, that prediction is the reason his parents have been so invested in his journey.

“We took that as a prophetic word. It was our responsibility to create that environment where he could thrive and pursue this,” Ethan’s dad, Fabian, explains to FARPost.

From as young as five when the youngster started showing interest in the game, Fabian says they had to be intentional about supporting him.

Being a multi-talented kid, later excelling in athletics, rugby, swimming, cricket and football, it was never easy to see which direction it was going. At least the word they held onto was that the young man was destined to be a professional athlete.

His first taste of club football came as early as the age of five at Mondeor Meteors Football Club in Mondeor, a suburb set amongst rolling hills away from the sight and sound of the ‘City of Gold’ – Johannesburg.

A parent, who happened to own an amateur football club, spotted the little boy in action at pre-school and invited him to the club. As though he were listening to the shepherding voice of the Lord, Fabian recalls how they moved him to Jabez Football Club after four years with Mondeor Meteors.

“Whilst at Mondeor Meteors a gentleman by the name Lyle Bennett joined the club. I’d say he was at a different level at the time. He would rope in parents to volunteer coaching. He was also a former professional player.

“Lyle was given the ‘left over’ boys, ones that weren’t the best. They played against the main team one time and lost 10-0 and then after a few months the same team won 2-1.

“You could see he knew what he was doing. At some point, he moved on to start Jabez Academy,” Fabian recalls.

His mind was made up. Bennett, whose playing career with Tyler Junior College in Texas was cut short by injury, was the man he would entrust with the development of his son.

But the move wasn’t going to come as easy as he thought. It would take a bit of trying to convince the management of Meteors who equally treasured the incredible talent of Ethan.

“I asked the Meteors management what the plan was considering where I wanted my son to go in as far as football is concerned and I didn’t get satisfactory answers. I then explored joining Lyle.

“Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I made. I credit Jabez Football Academy for the foundation they set on Ethan’s development – his tactical and technical awareness. The discipline of what to eat, how to conduct oneself came from there,” adds Fabian.

At Jabez, Ethan would get a taste of international football, making it to the semi-finals of the annual TTD International Super Cup in 2012. The prestigious tournament drew 50 teams of different age groups from South Africa, India, the United Kingdom and Qatar.

“He was the standout player in that tournament,” Bennett tells FARPost. “His vision on the field was incredible, he was doing things a lot differently to most of the players in his age group. His eyes were always looking around, he could identify spaces.”

Bennett, who was a Kaizer Chiefs development player in his younger days, is certainly not one to be carried away by the prophecy talk.

“Any coach that says a seven-year-old is going to be a professional is talking rubbish. However, I could identify certain qualities that he was showing, which made him standout. He had potential and the willingness to learn,” Bennett explains.

In his experience, youngsters have the tendency of showing interest in a sport and later losing their zest for it. That is the reason he encouraged his prodigy, Ethan, to dabble between football and cricket.

While at Jabez, Ethan met Michael Michael, who headed an amateur club Panorama FC, at a VW Tournament. “I have known the boy since he was 12 years old when we scouted him for Panorama FC from Jabez FC ahead of the VW tournament,” says Michael.

“From there he was under me all the time and I took him to tournaments in Portugal, Italy and then to local sides such as SuperSport United for the Champions of Champions.”

Former Matsatsantsa player and development coach, Ricardo Katza, remembers seeing 16-year-old Ethan at a trial at the Tshwane side. “I remember him. He was that good already at the time,” Katza, who is now director of football at Grey College in Bloemfontein, tells FARPost.

The SuperSport move fell through after his parents insisted the travel to Pretoria would disrupt his studies at Parktown Boys High. A year down the line, Mamelodi Sundowns came knocking.

Fabian remembers Trott Moloto walking into their Mondeor home with an envelope that they eventually never touched nor opened. Whatever the contents of that contract were, it could wait until the boy was done with his Matric.

“Up until this day, I don’t know what was in that contract. I’ll never forget what Mr Trott Moloto said. He said, ‘you know what, this is the first time I walk into somebody’s house and the first question is not ‘what’s in that envelope?’

“For us it wasn’t about the money, the name or the fame. We knew that it was important for Ethan to get an education. Even until now we stress the importance because unfortunately football is a short career,” he says.

With all focus on school, the accolades kept coming as if to remind the Brooks family of the 2004 prediction. In 2018, he was named the Engen Knockout Challenge player of the tournament. The following year, he was again voted player of the tournament at the 2019 Grey Soccer Tournament in Bloemfontein.

Parktown Boys High principal Malcolm Williams tells FARPost that the former school football team captain was “one of the most talented players I’ve seen at school level”.

“He had excellent vision, excellent distribution and the ability to read a game almost instinctively,” he says, adding that the young man “stands out in any company”.

Maybe that is how Dan Malesela could not take his eyes off the boy the first time he saw him. He didn’t have to look twice. TS Galaxy, then in the GladAfrica Championship, were using the same training facilities as Panorama at Radiokop.

“It’s just the thinking, the football intelligence, I could see something that was not in a lot of youngsters. Sometimes you just see pure talent, but with no football brain. It’s very rare [at that age] to see someone who is very calculative. I like people who think on the ball. That’s what hit it for me,” Malesela tells FARPost.

TS Galaxy would only get the blessings of his parents if they were willing to wait until he was done with his exams. “At the end of 2019, Coach Dan knew when the exams finished. It took about three months to March 2020 and we officially put pen to paper. It wasn’t until the bio-bubble that Ethan actually started playing for TS Galaxy,” recalls his dad.

The pint-sized midfielder made his debut in a GladAfrica Championship encounter against Cape Umoya on August 19, 2020. The last 12 months have been absolutely phenomenal for him.

“When he got his first national team call up, I wanted to give him the indemnity card we signed on that day in 2004 as a reminder of the story I kept telling him over the years. He refused, saying I was better placed to keep it because I had done so for 17 years,” an emotional Gogo Yvonne says.

After several industrious displays in national team colours which began with his surprise debut in the 3-2 international friendly win against Uganda in June, the 20-year-old is seemingly on an upward trajectory. He singled out the 2022 World Cup qualifier tie against Ghana recently as his most memorable game.

“Being a professional footballer is a prophecy being fulfilled as my parents would always remind me that this was destined for me,” Ethan tells FARPost.

Truly, His God is faithful to keep His word!

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By Mthokozisi Dube