UTD Podcast: How Fortune was driven by fear
In the latest edition of UTD Podcast, Quinton Fortune gives a fascinating insight into his tough, South African childhood and discusses the overriding fear that drove him on to making it in English football and at Manchester United.
Former midfielder Fortune, who is now our Under-23s' assistant coach, endured a difficult time in what he describes as the “Cape Town ghettos”, witnessing gang wars, crime and violence on a daily basis.
Speaking to Sam Homewood, David May and Helen Evans during an inspiring episode of UTD Podcast, he reflected on some life-changing experiences during his journey to England.
“My life growing up was brilliant in terms of the football, but in terms of the [overall] environment, it wasn’t so good because there was a lot of crime, gangs, drugs and alcohol which you didn’t want to be around,” Fortune explained.
“Right next to where I lived we had a stadium and every kid where I lived played football. It was in Cape Town. The Cape Flats, it was like the ghettos. The crime side I just wanted to get away from. I was lucky that I wasn’t involved in that side of things even though it was almost impossible not to get involved in it because something would happen whenever you even just went to play football, there would be fighting or a cross-shooting.
“I remember everything very well,” he continues. “There were big tanks and tear gas because students would be fighting against the police and that would happen three or four times a week and I would just run home with my brothers after school. People would be throwing bricks and the big tanks and army would be there, but growing up in that environment that’s all I ever knew and to be honest I was okay – there was food on the table and I was playing football.”
Quinton revealed he was initially forced to play rugby rather than his first love of football, but after an intervention from his mum when she moved him to another school, he never looked back.
“I played for everyone, I was that kid!” he joked. “I just loved playing football and I’m just glad I did because if you weren’t playing football you ended up doing something really bad, simple as that. I played for my local team but I didn’t play for my school team because my first language was Dutch and depending where you were born you had to play rugby and I couldn’t play rugby to save my life! [Laughs] I played my first game and got hurt and I went home and told my mum. Bless my mum, she then came into school and took me out of that one and put me in another school, purely for football reasons. It was opposite the house and that changed everything when I started playing for my new school team.
“I then got a place with the Provincial Team and things changed after that. Firstly I had a white coach, Colin Gie, and that was the first time I’d had any interaction with a white person. Our team was the first multi-racial team. Before that I only played with black players and then we had a mixed team and we were allowed to play with white players. We were 13 or 14 years old and it was totally natural to all play together, there was nothing about race or anything, it was amazing and we ended up winning the national tournament together.
“My coach Colin came to me after a tournament and asked if I would like to go to England. I said yes, of course,” continues Quinton. “It was like a ticket out of the ghettos, I was like ‘let’s go!’ He had to get permission from my parents because I was a minor but mum and dad signed the paperwork for him to be my guardian. Colin was just a local, South African guy and he took me out of school at 14 before I came to England and he trained me for six to eight months, three times a day at his house on my own.
“He saw something in me and he helped build me up and get me ready for the competition that was to come when I came to England. That time was probably the biggest test of my career, but I was so desperate to get out of the country. That’s what kept me going. I never wanted to go back to life before that. I saw so much I didn’t want to see – the drugs, the fighting, the shootings… no kid is supposed to see that. So in the back of my mind when the opportunity came I had that fear of not wanting to go back and that drove me on. That fear kept me going.”
Fortune got a move to England with Tottenham Hotspur and he recalls “amazing days” at the Spurs training ground alongside the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker.
“The contact Colin had in England was Terry Venables and we came over around 1991 and that’s how it all started. When I look back now, I don’t know how I left everything I knew, my family and friends, but coming to England to play football was what I used to imagine when I was sat on the side of the football field in South Africa. Everything was different when I came over and I remember meeting Terry, seeing Gazza and Gary Lineker and I was like ‘wow’… I even joined in with first-team training at Tottenham when I was 14, it was mad!
“The Sun newspaper ran a story on the front page, labelling me the first million-pound kid! It was crazy, it was Christmas for me every day just being in England. I went home once a year for two weeks and it was always great to go back, but as soon as I got the taste for life and football in England my determination to succeed was even bigger.”
The new episode of UTD Podcast, featuring Quinton Fortune, will be available on Deezer and other podcast providers from Monday 22 June. To find previous editions, plus video clips from the recording sessions, head to www.manutd.com/podcast.