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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.