Jill Penton-Browne meets a woman who makes a rather special contribution to the training of Monaco's young footballers
If you're born and spend your early years in Africa, they say, something gets into your blood and you feel you never really belong anywhere else. Perry Spitz agrees. She was born in Johannesburg but has not lived in South Africa since she was 9 years old. "And yet that's my country. I go back regularly and it's there I feel at home." How does she remember her childhood? "It's funny when you think what Jo'burg is like today. When I was a kid we felt completely safe. My parents used to send me off to school by myself. A walk and then a bus." Could she ever go back to live? "It's sad to say so but I couldn't..."I'm afraid I'm too much out of the loop to stay for good".
"Discipline and determination"
Perry and France is a long story. "My father's job took him round the world. We went to Paris, then to Grand Cayman, then to Houston and finally to the Côte d'Azur." How does she look back on it? "It's a great advantage in many ways to grow up like that. You meet so many people, see so many things. You pick up languages — I became bilingual with French." So no regrets? "Not really. I suppose you are a bit rootless in a way, although in my case there's South Africa in the background to give me the sense of belonging somewhere." After leaving the old Cannes International School, Perry studied tourism. "But that wasn't me, much as I like travel." She became attracted by teaching and went off to work at a school in New Zealand. Like so many South Africans she loved the country. "I suppose, I could've stayed but, well, I didn't."
Back on the Côte d'Azur she did a number of jobs, including a spell — "very enjoyable, I have to say" — at Commander Healy's chart centre. "When I was nearly thirty I decided to start studying again and so I enrolled at the Open University. I took an arts degree and now I'm doing a Master's in education." That sort of distance learning must be tough. "It is, believe me. You need discipline and determination, but on the other hand the tutors are very supportive and as you beaver away at your assignments you know that at the end of it all your job prospects will be better. That's why those guys in Sophia take M.B.A.'s through the OU."
So what happened to Perry Spitz, B.A.? "Well, teaching is my thing and I applied for a job with Education Nationale in Monaco. My CV ended up at the football club and that's where I work." Football club? "Not so strange as it sounds. ASM is a very enlightened club. Like most others they're always on the look out for young talent but they realise that it's simply not acceptable to fill up boys with hopes of making it on the soccer field and then dumping them if they're not up to it. So they run a school. Kids can enrol as young as 13 and, along with their football training, they get a full education, right up to baccalaureate level. That means if they can't live by their boots they can still get a decent job." Entering the ASM school is certainly a privilege. "We've got about 60 pupils and classes run to about half a dozen. We get good results: one lad has just left us with two bacs in his pocket..."
"Trips to South Africa a must"
For Perry the work is fascinating. "We get pupils from all over — our new intake includes boys from Africa, Argentina and the Czech Republic. I'm involved in teaching French, including basic literacy skills, as well as English. And this all feeds into my Master's thesis." So she's not thinking of moving for the moment? "No — but I don't see the Côte d'Azur as my final resting place. I can imagine living in the West of France quite happily, though." And, she admits, regular trips to South Africa will remain a must.