SA coaching’s Pepper-upper
Threats by a section of fickle fans of second-division side Alexandra United cast the club’s coach, Tracy-lee Pepper, into the spotlight this week. Daniel Mothowagae spent some time with the ABC Motsepe League’s only female head coach
‘You’re right up there with [José] Mourinho and [Louis] Van Gaal right now. When people are talking about you this much, you have to know you have arrived. So take it in a positive way.”
This is how a friend of Alex United coach Tracy-lee Pepper remarked in jest at this week’s developments that there were fans who wanted Pepper out of the ABC Motsepe League side.
Pepper, a mother of two, has been in local football for some time, but the 51-year-old from Cape Town has mostly been a behind-the-scenes tactician.
This was until she succeeded the late legendary Bafana Bafana midfielder John “Shoes” Moshoeu as the head coach of the seconddivision outfit in the 2014/15 season.
“People always ask about me being a female coach. We often joke that players knew when they came here that I was a woman and I didn’t morph into a woman halfway through the season,” Pepper said as her way of breaking the ice during our interview at the club’s training base in Edenvale, Ekurhuleni, on Friday.
She reflected: “My time at Alex United has been good. In any team, you’re going to have challenges coming in. But the management is fantastic and the supporters at the games support us 100%. So do the players. We really are united.”
Pepper said she was aware of the hurdles that came with what was mostly referred to as a thankless job.
“It’s not a shock. I knew what I was coming into. There are times where I just thought this is a cruel industry; you are a hero one minute and a zero the next – or vice versa.
“You never hear of the players being fired. It’s always the coach who gets fired.
“Everybody is allowed their opinion and you respect their opinion as long as you know your worth and value. Make sure you surround yourself with positive energy.”
This was a diplomatic response to an open letter from a section of supporters who had accused her of, among other things, favouritism and not picking enough players from Alex.
However, the team is doing pretty well in their Gauteng stream.
United are second, two points behind leaders African All Stars.
In fact, if United beat Pheli United Brothers in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, this afternoon, the Alexandra side will top the table by one point over Stars, who had a bye this week.
Pepper, a parent to football-crazy offspring, says soccer has always been part of her DNA.
Her brothers, Kevin and Clive, were professional players at the now defunct Hellenic and the former later turned out for Stoke City in England.
Her daughter, Cassidy (24), represented the SA Under-17s, while son Smith (19) is a former Alex United player.
Pepper does not doubt her coaching capabilities in a maledominated environment.
“I’d like to think of myself as a coach first. I think I am as good as any coach in the country and I certainly have the qualifications. I’ve worked just as hard as any male coach to get the qualifications I have.”
She acquired her introduction to coaching qualification in 2004.
She was based in Germany in 2011 and 2013 for three weeks at a time for her German Football Association A- and B-licences. Pepper also boasts the CAF A- (2014) and B-licences (2011) and a Safa Pro Licence (2012).
These credentials decorate a journey that was influenced by Pepper’s daughter, who, as an 11year-old, inspired her mum to start a company called Girls Sport in 2004.
“That was the kick-start for me to get involved in coaching. And from there I just progressively started taking my coaching licences until I finally got my pro licence.”
Pepper – who is assisted by Madida Letele – said her mission was to shed United’s tag as the team that always comes agonisingly close to promotion to the National First Division.
She believes her combination with the tradition-steeped Alexandra outfit is a perfect fit.
“I’ll forever be grateful to United for giving me the opportunity. When I finished my Level 3, I sent my CV to probably every club in the country, and it was United that responded. I came in as a match analyst and then as an assistant when Shoes was very ill.”
Pepper said she learnt a lot from the iconic Moshoeu, who succumbed to cancer in April last year.
“He was a great player manager. Players loved him and they played for him. Replacing him was big shoes to fill – it was a lot easier to go under the radar. Shoes was always open to the suggestions I gave him when I was a match analyst when he was the coach.”
Pepper worked in the same capacity at Moroka Swallows under Gordon Igesund when the Dube Birds almost won the league in 2012.
She also had spells with Mpumalanga Black Aces’ Under-17 and Under-19 teams.
A good friend of Banyana Banyana coach Vera Pauw, Pepper believes she can break into the Premiership.
“I would love to be an assistant to some of the top coaches in the Premier Soccer League until I gain enough experience to take a team on my own. [Or] if I were approached by the national team, it’s certainly an offer I will consider.”
As a parting shot, Pepper said: “I would like to think I am an inspiration to young female coaches. For whatever reason, female coaches don’t succeed. People must know this is a hard league to be in and coaches here strive to go out of this league and better their careers. I look at the lessons, and whatever comes my way makes me stronger.” Visit www.citypress.co.za for more
on this interview
UNITED WE STAND Alex United coach Tracy-lee Pepper during a training session with her team this week