I got absolutely nothing from football
All Portia Modise dreamed of as a kid was to become a professional footballer who would travel the world on national duty, drive a car of her choice, stay in a decent house and improve the lives of her family. She did become a Banyana Banyana player, a legendary one at that, adored for her goalscoring exploits, but all else remained a pipedream up until the day she decided she had had enough in 2015. It’s an incredibly sad storyy of givinggg one’s all to the cause of a nation, only to walk away empty-handed, literally and otherwise. A miserable yet outspoken Modise had a conversation with Soccer Laduma’s Beaver Nazo, and it’s the stuff of tell-all books!
Beaver Nazo: Bashin, what are you up to these days now that you have retired?
Portia Modise: Hey, Beaver, right now I have a project that I’m busy with and I’m also doing a bit of coaching. Nothing much for now, mfethu (my brother) – I’m still hustling for the job.
BN: On 19 May 2015, you announced your retirement from international football, having played 124 matches and scored 101 goals for South Africa. Many felt you should have carried on though.
PM: I guess that was the case, but sometimes we get problems along the way. There are circumstances that led to my retirement. My retirement was premature, but I had to stop playing because I was getting old and I have ambitions. I am a breadwinner at home and there was so little that I could do with the little incentive that we were getting. I couldn’t make a living out of that, being paid after three months and all that. So I decided to stop and pursue other options so that I could be able to put bread on the table. When you look at amajita (guys) that are playing football, when they are done training, they get to their cars and go home. They have families. They have kids. I mean, nathi (we) as girls also want that life. We also have those ambitions and that is why we chose a football career. But we can’t have that life because we are not treated with the same respect. It is a sad story… uthol’ ukuthi (you find that) some of the girls who were playing for Banyana Banyana are now working as cashiers at Shoprite and others are taxi drivers trying to make a living. Hopefully things will change for women’s football in future because, as things stand now, it is bad.
BN: You’re painting a grim picture.
PM: Hey, Beaver, udlala ngami wena (you’re playing with me). That is why I’m saying we also wish to have houses and cars, but not with what we were given as salaries. I felt that if I can score 100 goals, then I should be treated with respect and earn a living from that. Football is more like a business nowadays and footballers earn enough to make a living out of it. I was staying in a shack and when I won the SA Sports Star of the Year award I couldn’t leave home and buy a house because I was a breadwinner, so I decided to build my home and I used all that money for that purpose. I still have a dream of buying myself a house, but where will I ever get that kind of money from? I mean, for someone my age, who
is a celebrated star and an all-time leading goalscorer for Banyana, I should have my house and a car, but I don’t. I stay at home because I don’t have money. It’s sad, really sad…
BN: Is that why you were not excited to get a framed jersey on the occasion of your 100th cap for Banyana?
PM: At the end of the day, you know that it’s not something that comes from deep in their hearts, honouring me and believing that I am an icon. They just do it for people to see them as people who appreciate me when they actually don’t. If I were that important ,I wouldn’t have been struggling to buy bread. When Danny Jordaan said I was their Pele, he just said that so that people would think that they really take care of me. When you say I’m a Pele and Pele is taken care of in Brazil, while I am even struggling to buy bread, then that is something else.
BN: Food for thought, excuse the pun.
PM: You cannot be happy for a framed jersey that will stay on the wall of a shack; that is why I was not excited for it. Think about it… what will a framed jersey do for me?
BN: In November 2008, you announced that you would no longer play for South Africa, after a breakdown in your working relationship with coach Augustine Makalakalane. What happened?
PM: I don’t want to go back there, mara ngiyakwazi uzobuya ung’buze
futhi ngenye indlela (but I know you will ask me again in a different way). No, it was just that we didn’t see eyeto-eye and you know we were raised in different ways – how you do things might not be the same as how I do things. When we are in camp, we are adults and just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean that I cannot have my say or I don’t understand why I got the call-up. I play with legends and they sometimes share their stories on how they used to stand up for themselves. The way we were treated was like we were just children and when you talk you are not going to be called up to the Banyana because they will say you are a troublemaker. When I voiced out the fact that we were not paid and we were only getting R400 allowance, they said I was a troublemaker. Yini into e right ekumele ngi
yenze (What is the right thing I’m supposed to do)? I felt that they think ukuthi they are doing us a favour by selecting us for Banyana. There is no progress. I’m sure you can also see that there is no progress, no change. Imagine, we are wearing the same jersey that Bafana are wearing and we sing the same national anthem before games, yet we get paid R400. They don’t see us deserving of anything, no matter what we can win, because we are women. There are people who quit school because they wanted to pursue a dream of playing for Banyana, yet you get there and you’re not even earning R1 000.
BN: Hopefully, things will change for the better. As SAFA Vice-President Ria Ledwaba mentioned in her interview in Soccer Laduma issue 1094, there is a women’s professional league mooted for 2019.
PM: How are they going to generate money to pay the players that will be playing in the league? How much will the players earn? How much are the best players in the league going to earn – R5 000 or R3 500? I am really worried because they are going to say, “No, we are starting small.” I so wish one day they could just leave the gender alone and look at us and look at what we are doing and respect us. Why can’t we be treated the same? That is why I have my doubts about this women’s professional league. The way I see it, nothing will happen. For anything to happen in that league, men have to help the league because they already have the ball in their hand. Teams like Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and others have to adopt these women’s teams. It will never be easy for these ladies’ teams to even get support because some of them are not even playing for Banyana, so they are unknown. Now, tell me, who is going to watch their games? Who is going to pay R40 for a ticket to watch people they don’t even know? We still have a long way to go. If the people in charge in our Football Association were interested in helping women’s football, we would have had that league long time ago.
BN: Go on. PM: I started playing for Banyana when I was 16 years old and if I am here today telling you what I am telling you and still struggling, what do you think will make things better for the girls playing now? What are they going to do after football? We were popular and some companies would use my popularity to give me gigs and activations, but there are very few popular footballers at Banyana now. Even if you talk to people on the streets, they will tell you, “No, we no longer watch women’s football because we don’t even know the ladies that are playing there.” Tell me, where’s the future there? I played with the Class of 2000s and you can try and get all of them together, most of them stay in shacks. Some don’t have plans to raise funds for their children’s school fees. Some have given up on life and drink at Park Station every day. Tell me, is it fair for a brilliant player like Veronica Phewa to be a taxi driver today?
PM: I hear and read stories about legends who don’t have money, male legends, and I say to myself these guys had an opportunity to have millions but they just didn’t know how to spend their money. With us, we didn’t even have salaries, mfethu. I never had that money. I was staying in a shack while banging in goals and putting Banyana Banyana on the map. Now, when I speak, people will say, “Portia won the Sports Star of the Year award. What did she do with that money?” So whoever was staying in a shack like me and got R500 000 two years back can show me if they still have that money after building a house and making a homes for themselves.
PM: Yeah even my township is proud of me, even though I never bought myself a house. I never even left the township and some of them understand that my job was to go and kick the ball, but it’s even worse than someone who works at the till at Shoprite because those people earn way better than I was earning. The only thing that people think was better about my job is that they used to watch me on TV. It’s sad because it’s still the same with the players playing for Banyana now, but players are scared to talk because they will be banned from playing for the national team. Kanti sifelani (Why are they killing us)? Once you start talking, they will tell you, “Hey, you are playing amateur football and, now that you are in Banyana, you talk too much. Now you are earning R5 000 and you talk too much.” The girls don’t get anything from club level, so they will never get better salaries because they will be told that every time they speak up. Now, tell me, what are the chances of change in SAFA for women’s football?
BN: Sad state of affairs, if your version is anything to go by…
PM: We used taxis to travel to training and, if you look at Bafana players, they brag about wheels, rims and even the car brands, but the girls didn’t even have the Unos. We didn’t even get the jerseys that we played with. Then, in the morning, you bump into a big belly guy wearing a jersey with Modise and number 12 at the back, whereas I don’t have the jersey! The minute we finished playing, the kit man took the kit. Even the players that are playing now don’t get to keep the jerseys. People give that uniform to their friends. I am telling you about what I experienced and I know nothing has changed. The game bonus is R5 000 and they deduct it to R3 500, while the incentive is R400. It was R50, but because I fought, it became R400, and you only get it after three months of starving. Let me tell you something… there’s a lot that is going wrong in women’s football and, when I talk people, misunderstood me, thinking that I want to cause trouble or I am jealous of the current team. I was a captain and I cared for my teammates because I knew where we come from. I only got my breakthrough when I got that money for the Sports Star of the Year. If I hadn’t got that, I would still be staying in a shack. It is that money that made me a human being. I am not saying these things because I want to be in the spotlight and I am not even fighting for myself because I am done playing football, but I am fighting for the current players so that they can get something out of football, something that didn’t happen to me. I scored over 100 goals for Banyana Banyana, but I got absolutely nothing from football.
BN: It shouldn’t be that way and hopefully these pertinent issues you are raising will be addressed by the powers that be sooner rather than later. There’s always talk about empowering women, about equality, but talk is cheap.
PM: Yeah, we need to start getting worried. I mean, if Portia, who was a star, is not taken care of to the point that they don’t even know if I am not a drug addict today, how much more the players who are average? The only thing they say about me is that u Portia uyadelela, ukhuluma kakhulu (is disrespectful, she talks too much). I grew up there. I started when I was 15 years old and I know how they operate. There are parents here in my township who wish for their children to play football and maybe represent Banyana and I always advise them to send their children to school. They must not deprive their children of education because they want them to make it to Banyana, as there is no future there and no one can make a living off that.
BN: It’s been one bombshell after another from you throughout this interview. Thanks for opening up.
PM: Sure, buddy, anytime.