Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis
Banyana Banyana interim coach Desiree Ellis is the first South African to win the Cosafa Championship as a player and a coach
IT WASN’T too much of a surprise for Banyana Banyana interim coach Desiree Ellis when her team recently clinched the 2017 Cosafa Women’s Championship. After all, they won it in 2002, 2006 and 2008 and finished second in 2011. But the idea of making history in a sport she’s played since the day she could walk was unimaginable for Desiree (54) – she’s now the first South African to win the championship as a player and as a coach.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this could happen to me,” she tells us at her home in Hanover Park, Cape Town, which she shares with her mom, Natalie (73).
Back in 2002, Banyana triumphed over the Zimbabwean women’s side with a 2-1 win under Desiree’s captaincy.
And 15 years later, our ladies did it again – securing the title in the last minute of their match against the Zimbabwean team, again winning 2-1.
Desiree believes their success on the field began off it.
“We were well-structured, and this is because the unity within the team was transformed onto the pitch,” she says of the match.
DESIREE’S road to soccer superstardom began at age 15 when she joined Athlone Celtic, which her parents – mom Natalie and her late dad, Ernst – later managed after coaches at the club left. She joined Wynberg St Johns six years later, but was kicked out after pushing to have the team’s nickname changed.
“We were called The Magpies, because of the funny-looking black-and-white uniforms we wore. I didn’t like that name very much and wanted it changed. But the club refused and I was told to leave.”
In 1987 she joined Joyces United, which later became Saban United, and in 1991 she joined Cape Town Spurs as part of the club’s women’s team. Spurs later merged with Seven Stars to form Ajax Cape Town and never took the female team on board. The Spurs women’s group changed their name to Spurs Ladies.
Desiree then set her sights on making the national women’s team, which she did, and at the age of 30 she represented her country for the first time in a match against Swaziland – where Banyana smashed their opponents 14-0. For nine years she continued her position as midfielder until 2002, when she bowed out of national soccer after 32 caps. She returned to Spurs Ladies, where she stayed for three years as a player and eventually became their coach.
Desiree joined Banyana as their interim coach in October last year. Despite her recent history-making feat and the team’s stellar performance under her training, there’s talk Desiree isn’t guaranteed the position of coach permanently.
But this doesn’t trouble her, she says. “Whoever takes over from me will receive a team that’s in good shape,” she says assuredly.
In addition to coaching, Desiree is an ambassador for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation in South Africa, a worldwide organisation that focuses on uniting people through sport. She’s also a Special Olympics ambassador and is involved in various community-based projects.
“I chose to continue living in a community like Hanover Park, which is often riddled by violence and crime, to show kids where you come from doesn’t determine what your life will become. If I could do it, why can’t you?”
‘Whoever takes over from me will receive a team that’s in good shape’
ABOVE: Desiree Ellis made her mark in soccer as a player and team captain – now she’s also made her mark as interim coach of Banyana Banyana. ABOVE RIGHT: With mom Natalie, her number one supporter.