ODYSSEY -DREAM IT, REALIZE IT AGAINST ALL ODDS
Thembi Kgatlana is living a dream, a dream she has nurtured since she was growing up as the only girl in a family of five. That dream since she started playing football at age seven was to defy all odds and become a major soccer star.
Like a lot of girls, Kgatlana faced opposition. ‘’When I started playing soccer, my mom wasn’t so supportive and wanted me to quit football. Even my relatives were not supportive but they later saw how important playing football was to me’’.
Parents, at their best, are supportive and understanding of the choices you make in life and at their very worst are unloving and adamant about a specific way to live life. Constance, Thembi’s mother wanted to understand a bit more.
“She was seven years old when she started playing soccer. I felt so bad when she started playing football. “I was asking her‚ ‘Why football? Why not netball?’ But she said to me‚ ‘Mama‚ this one is going to be my talent’.
With her mothers backing, she set about honing her skills. She played with boys from boys on the streets before Pama in Mohlakeng‚ offered her a career opportunity. With her massive exploits at age 13 the High Performance Centre [at Tuks] came to fetch her and she started playing for the under-17s.
‘’Going to a soccer Academy to be developed and play for the junior and senior national teams of South Africa was a really big deal’’ she says fondly.
After a year of blistering efforts, promotion to the under-20s and later to the National squad came deservedly.
There is no easy road to a successful football career but at age 22‚ Kagtlana already had the entire African continent at the feet. She was star of the Women’s Nations Cup in Ghana and is officially the best female player on the continent. So what has inspired her? One sentence defined her resilience. ‘’My whole life I have been inspired by Nompumelelo Nyandeni’’.
Does this name ring a bell? Yes over the years Nyandeni has been a household name associated with Women football in South Africa’s Sasol league, Russia and UEFA Women’s Champions League for FC Rossiyanka. Perhaps a quick look at few stats on her might bring back those nostalgic moments that left an indelible ink on the minds of women football enthusiasts in South Africa and the entire African continent. She was the 2001 Nike u/14 Player of the Tournament, 2002 Women’s Interprovincial Player of the Tournament, 2002/8 African Women’s Championships Runner’s Up, 2007 All Africa Games Runners Up, 2009 Sasol League National Champions. 2009 SAFA Women Player of the Year, 2010 Sasol League National Championship Diski Queen of the Tournament & Top Goalscorer, 2012 London Olympian, 2016 Rio Olympian and capped 127 with 38 goals for Banyana Banyana and it goes on. Therefore it is not far from right when almost every young enthusiastic and emerging female footballer admits she is inspired by the iconic Nyandeni. She defines football excellence.
HOLD ON EDUCATION, WILL VISIT YOU LATER!!
Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan of blessed memory once opined to educate girls is to reduce poverty but here is a girl who was ever ready to hold on to poverty and defend the black, gold, green, white, chilli red and blue flag because the mere sound of ‘’Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika’’, the South Africa National Anthem sends shiver down her spine.
Twice the Mohlakeng-Randfontein born has to put her studies on hold and focused on her football career. A prominent scenario was when due to the high demands of Banyana Banyana camps ahead of the Rio Olympics, she had to press the pause button to her academic life in 2016 to realize her childhood dream of going to the Olympic Games. She returned to complete a Bachelor of Art degree in Tourism at the University of the Western Cape.
Pigeonhole abounds definitely!!!
Cultural stereotypes in women football are not only limited to Africa but extended to women playing football worldwide. The world has witnessed a steady rise in the number of reports of sexist discrimination in football targeted at high‑profile women in the game, which is worrying but not surprising. Women’s and men’s football are obviously the same thing: the field, the ball and the same desire to do your best, setting an example to continue inspiring the youth so that the new generations can accept it in a natural way. But in some countries, they’re also questioned and accused of being manly and sometimes banned from the pitch.
Kgatlana has had to deal with her own share of that. ‘’If you are a female who plays soccer, lot of people think that you are a boy because you play a man’s game. Gender inequality, where men always get s big share of everything in sports and women get less of everything in sports’.’
She has braved them all. The discrimination, the sexism didn’t stop her. Pacey, skillful, lethal she scored a lot of quality goals last year. She bagged the CAF Goal of the year and CAF Women Footballer of the Year . As she stepped up to collect her award in Senegal, the Banyana Banyana Star told the world, “I’m honored and privileged to receive this award in this beautiful hall of legends. I think that’s the best I could ever think or want to achieve. I never thought one day, Didier Drogba would give me the award for the best goal.”
Those comments summed up both her pride at what she had achieved and how far she had come but she had endured disappointment before after missing out on the same award in 2017.
DEADLOCK BROKEN! PARTY IN FRANCE 2019
The secret to success is consistency, sticking to a set purpose and working hard towards it otherwise, success is just a dream. A South African football dream was realized some months ago in Ghana when Banyana Banyana through largely the efforts of Kgatlana, qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time in the country’s history. They defeated Mali 2-0 in the semi-finals of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations to book their place in the biggest showpiece in world football.
In that historic match that gave them the nod, Thembi Kgatlana scored one of the two goals. Her innate scoring ability made her the most dangerous player for the team throughout the tournament and a huge factor in why they would play on the biggest stage in the women’s game.
“This particular AFCON has been a good experience for me personally and it would give me confidence going into 2019”, she said after the pain of losing to Nigeria in the final. She was picking on the positives and the. ‘’I am not person who plans for the future but take one step at a time. Looking forward to playing in the world cup as it will be my 1st experience’’.
Undoubtedly in just few years she has echoed her name as a genuine star of not just South Africa football but also the entire African game and her challenge in the coming years will be to kick-on and continue to improve. She certainly has the drive, passion and the skill to do so, and her development into potential global icon over the next few years will be fascinating to watch.
It would be fun watching her take on the world with her quest of chasing the globular leather.
By Matilda Dimedo