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Ja­nine van Wyk was forced to play in boys teams un­til the age of 15 be­cause there were no lo­cal teams that ac­com­mo­dated girls in her area of Al­ber­ton, south of Jo­han­nes­burg. Boys clubs were plen­ti­ful and thriv­ing, but op­por­tu­ni­ties for girls and women to play foot­ball were vir­tu­ally non-ex­is­tent. Van Wyk’s ca­reer has been a re­mark­able suc­cess: now a star at Hous­ton Dash in the Na­tional Women’s Soc­cer League in the United States, she is one of very few Banyana stars to play pro­fes­sion­ally abroad. But even while she climbed the foot­balling lad­der, it both­ered her that so many girls were de­nied the op­por­tu­nity to play the game they loved, and it was for that rea­son she started the JVW Schools League in 2012 along with Lau­ren Dun­can. “It has been so re­ward­ing watch­ing this league grow into one of the big­gest plat­forms for girls’ foot­ball in our coun­try,” Van Wyk told KICK OFF of her project that now sees ap­prox­i­mately 3 000 girls take part. “I was born into a very soc­ceror­i­en­tated fam­ily and started playing at five years of age. My un­cle Mossie Steyn played for Rangers in Jo­han­nes­burg, and other un­cles and cousins all played, so I was al­ways around foot­ball and I found I had a real de­sire to play the game. “The prob­lem for me was that there were no girls teams around in those days, so I played for a boys team – Scaw Me­tals in Ger­mis­ton –from the age of five to 15. But af­ter that I had to find a ladies team and ended up go­ing to Springs Home Sweep­ers in Kwa Thema, where my ca­reer re­ally be­gan. “I started this de­vel­op­ment league in 2012 be­cause I saw those same prob­lems I had come up against as a child grow­ing up and want­ing to play soc­cer re­mained – there were no schools teams for girls. “School is such a cru­cial de­vel­op­ment tool for all sports, and def­i­nitely soc­cer. So the JVW Schools League started from there and has done re­ally well. I also wanted a place for these girls to go to af­ter school, so I started [Sa­sol League side] JVW FC out of the Bed­ford­view Foot­ball Club. “It pro­vides a plat­form and an op­por­tu­nity that I didn’t have. There is so much tal­ent in the coun­try, they just need the op­por­tu­nity to play.” Van Wyk’s men­tor is Fran Hil­ton­smith, an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised and re­spected doyen of foot­ball de­vel­op­ment, who feels the Schools League has been a game-changer for women’s foot­ball. “It is in­cred­i­ble that two women, Ja­nine and Lau­ren, can put to­gether a league with 146 teams with no

(Below) Van Wyk – back row, third left – had to play in a boys team at the start of her ca­reer.

spon­sor­ship,” Hil­ton-Smith says. “The teams come from all over, in­clud­ing the pri­vate schools. Peo­ple say these schools are not in­ter­ested in soc­cer, but the league has the likes of King David’s and St Mary’s, to name a few. “It has been a real game-changer for women’s foot­ball in the prov­ince and coun­try be­cause it has pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to so many more girls. “The league has grown ev­ery year, and schools are en­ter­ing teams in mul­ti­ple age-groups, which pro­motes con­ti­nu­ity. It is the big­gest women’s foot­ball project in Africa. “In all my trav­els through CAF, I have never found any­thing like this. There are more teams in the JVW League than in most Safa leagues.” Hil­ton-Smith played a huge role in Van Wyk’s de­vel­op­ment, and it was she who took the young de­fender to Sweep­ers un­der for­mer coach Joseph Mkhonza. “Ja­nine was from a dif­fer­ent era when there was such lim­ited op­por­tu­nity, to be frank, for white girls who wanted to play soc­cer. Now just about any girl in Gaut­eng who wants to play has the op­por­tu­nity to do so. “It shows you the mas­sive in­ter­est in the game from girls. The hunger to play is there and is fan­tas­tic to see.” One of the ob­vi­ous spin-offs of the league is that it will wi­den the pool of play­ers for the var­i­ous women’s na­tional teams. “We were busy do­ing na­tional team se­lec­tions for our un­der-17 and un­der-20 age-groups, and many new play­ers from the JVW League at­tended those tri­als, so it has widened our pool tremen­dously,” Hil­ton-Smith says. “The 2012 Schools League Player of the Year, Nelisiwe Mchunu, is now a full Banyana Banyana in­ter­na­tional, hav­ing been scouted for the na­tional team through the com­pe­ti­tion. “The 2013 and 2014 Schools League Player of the Year Amanda Mthandi is an un­der-20 in­ter­na­tional and net­ted on her de­but for Baset­sana. “So we have im­me­di­ate suc­cess from the league, but it is also a great plat­form for the future.” KO

“THE PROB­LEM FOR ME WAS THAT THERE WERE NO GIRLS TEAMS AROUND IN THOSE DAYS, SO I PLAYED FOR A BOYS TEAM FROM THE AGE OF FIVE TO 15.” (Below) The Banyana Banyana cap­tain is an in­spi­ra­tion for all fe­male foot­ballers in South Africa.

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