Joyful Desiree knows the hard work starts now
A journey that kicked off with a Kombi drive to Joburg ...
DESIREE ELLIS had to quickly grab a pin and burst the bubble of euphoria she was in after her appointment as the interim head coach of Banyana Banyana, the national women’s football team.
The popular 53- year- old Capetonian, a former captain of Banyana, had to get into gear rather rapidly after her elevation to the position to prepare the South Africans for an international friendly against Egypt, scheduled for this afternoon at the Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto ( 3pm kickoff).
The friendly is part of Banyana’s warm- up preparations for the African Women’s Championships in Cameroon during November and December. At the event, Ellis’ team will be in Group A, with hosts Cameroon, Egypt and Zimbabwe. Group B includes Nigeria, Mali, Ghana and Kenya.
“I was just so emotional on the day of the announcement,” she said. “I was simply overwhelmed by all the messages of support. You know sometimes you don’t really realise how popular Banyana actually are but judging by the response to my appointment, there’s no question about the team’s popularity… It was just unbelievable.”
Ellis, though, knows that after the joy and happiness, the hard work starts.
“Obviously, my appointment as a national coach is fantastic for the Cape,” she said. “And it’s now up to me and my technical staff to put into practice what we’ve learnt over the last few years.
“We’ve been on coaching courses, we’ve completed the Caf A Licence and we’ve also been on a Fifa course. Now it’s up to us to take the team further, to show what we’ve learnt. For me, from a personal perspective, it’s about adding value, and stamping my own mark on the team.”
Ellis is originally from Heideveld but grew up in Salt River. Both her parents worked, so she stayed with her grandmother in order to attend school. She was at Dryden Street Primary and Salt River High.
“We were four girls at the time and, when my brother came along, the family was too big and we moved to Hanover Park,” said Ellis, as she revealed how the football bug bit.
“But we still went to school in Salt River… and it was from playing football in the streets with the boys, and during breaks at school, that was where it all started.
“When I was 15 years old, I was approached to play for a team called Athlone Celtic – to be honest, at the time, I didn’t even know they had girls’ football teams.
“But I joined, and that was to be the start of my football career, and my late father was my biggest supporter.”
By the age of 30, after the unification of football, Ellis’ big opportunity with Banyana arrived. With South Africa’s readmission to the Fifa fold, and national football teams established, Ellis was asked to travel to Johannesburg for national trials.
She drove herself in a Kombi with a few other women ( no flights for these ladies at the time) and, with former England international Terry Paine in charge of the squad, Ellis was picked as the vice- captain. The very first game for them was against Swaziland, with Banyana winning 14- 0, and Ellis netting a hat- trick.
Now, the Capetonian has gone full circle – from captain to head coach. She spent a two- and- a- half year period as assistant coach to her predecessor, Dutchwoman Vera Pauw, and now Ellis is the one calling the shots on the bench.
“The African Women’s Championships is coming up, but we are only focused on Saturday’s friendly against Egypt,” Ellis said.
“Egypt are in our group at the tournament in Cameroon next month, so it’ll be a good pointer.
“We’ve called up a few players from the Varsity Cup. They weren’t at the recent Rio Olympics, so we want to have a look at them. As for the players in the squad who were in Rio, I have to say I was quite impressed with their level of fitness at training this week, it was clear that they have been working hard since the Olympics.
“But look, I’m well aware that, in any coaching position, it’s all about results. I’ve only been in the job for a short while, but I know that’s the bottom line.”
Banyana’s participation at the Rio Olympics earlier this year ended with elimination during the group stages. Ellis was at the event as Pauw’s assistant and, while others may feel the team failed, the Capetonian is of the opinion that the experience and knowledge gained will stand them in good stead for future tournaments.
“It was obviously wonderful to be at the Olympics,” Ellis said. “But, as I always tell people, I didn’t even see anything of Rio… I was there to work. There wasn’t time for anything because we had two days between games and it was just a case of working all the time. But it was nevertheless a great experience.
“As for the team, remember that we are ranked 52 and we played against teams ranked way higher than us. But we still managed to give the opposition some headaches. For example: against Sweden, we had a great chance early on, didn’t take it and they went on to win; against China, we should have been 3- 0 up by halftime, we never took the chances and we lost; against Brazil, it could have gone either way, but it ended goalless.
“We lost concentration at crucial moments and, of course, there’s also the big problem that affects all of South African football – the lack of goals. It’s not easy, ask any other coach in this country, but it’s something I will have to focus on, and keep working on, now that I am in charge,” she added.
Going forward, Ellis – as she did when she was a player – wants to achieve. She is determined to place Banyana on the road to success.
“When you are young you dream of playing for your national team, and for me it happened when I was 30,” Ellis said.
“Then, you dream to coach your national team and it’s more than a dream come true for me now… I am living the dream. It’s always about belief, and if you don’t have it, you have nothing.
“The only way you can change the mentality of those who don’t believe is to get good results, and get the team to play positive football, to win matches.
“In life, you will always have people who do not believe, you will always have people who don’t have faith in you.
“But, as a player, I have been dropped three or four times in the national team, and the attitude I showed to get back into the team, to go on and captain the team – I have that attitude in life as well because I may not be able to change things I am unable to change, but I can control the ones I can change.”
PUSH IT, THEN PUSH IT SOME MORE: Desiree Ellis is able to share her experiences as a national captain with the likes of Amogelang Motau.