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

CityPress - - Sport -

‘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

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

UNITED WE STAND Alex United coach Tracy-lee Pep­per dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion with her team this week

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