De­siree El­lis has won many ad­mir­ers in the past few days af­ter guid­ing Banyana Banyana to their maiden Women’s World Cup. Daniel Mothowa­gae traces the mak­ing of the coun­try’s new­est hero

CityPress - - Sport -

Life was so tough for De­siree El­lis that, at some point, she had to chase her foot­ball dream in bat­tered soc­cer boots.

But it be­came even tougher in 1993, when she lost her job at a lo­cal butch­ery where she was em­ployed as a spice mixer.

Her fir­ing came af­ter she an­swered a call to try out at Banyana Banyana’s first camp dur­ing the team’s for­ma­tive years.

El­lis had stocked up enough spices to last for the days she was away, but she and her mates had a tyre punc­ture on their way back.

As fate would have it, her bosses ac­cused her of ab­scond­ing and fired her.

“I was out of work for three years,” said El­lis, who comes from Salt River in Cape Town.

But this did not stop the pint-sized player from fol­low­ing her pas­sion for the beau­ti­ful game when her dream of be­com­ing a lawyer fiz­zled out.

The 55-year-old looked a bit drained dur­ing her oneon-one in­ter­view with City Press this week.

But this was not sur­pris­ing. She has had to deal with huge me­dia at­ten­tion since she guided Banyana to a run­ners-up spot at the re­cent Africa Women Cup of Na­tions – and a sub­se­quent qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the South African women’s debut at the World Cup.

It is fit­ting that, af­ter many years of try­ing to reach the global show­piece, El­lis spear­headed this feat even though she paid a heavy price on her way up the Banyana ranks.

El­lis, one of three chil­dren in her fam­ily, is still grate­ful to her par­ents for their sup­port in a sport that some deemed not tai­lored for girls.

“I just had this foot­ball bug in my sys­tem and, back in the day, other par­ents could have eas­ily said: ‘You’re a girl and you shouldn’t be play­ing foot­ball,’” said El­lis, who is not mar­ried and has no kids.

“My life would have turned out dif­fer­ently. My sis­ter got a bur­sary to study at univer­sity, but I didn’t get the op­por­tu­nity. I wanted to be a lawyer, but I don’t know what hap­pened along the way.”

El­lis was iden­ti­fied at Banyana as a leader from the on­set.

Terry Paine, who was the Banyana coach at the time, made El­lis the squad’s vice-cap­tain.

She scored a hat-trick on debut when South Africa beat Swazi­land 14-0 in their first in­ter­na­tional game.

She went on to ac­cu­mu­late 32 caps in a ca­reer with Banyana span­ning nine years – from 1993 to 2002.

“Both my par­ents worked, but I couldn’t even af­ford boots. I re­mem­ber the pair I had got a hole and I had to tape them. Every­body said: ‘But you’re the cap­tain.’ But I told them I didn’t have money to buy boots.”

El­lis re­called how the fam­ily had to move from Salt River to Hanover Park be­cause “the fam­ily house was too small”.

“We were five. My mother would pack food to take with us af­ter school to go to my granny in the af­ter­noon,” she said.

El­lis got odd jobs and found her­self work­ing in the pic­ture li­brary at Kick Off mag­a­zine while play­ing for the Cape Town Spurs Ladies’ team.

“Prior to that, Mark Glee­son [the found­ing ed­i­tor of Kick Off] ap­proached me and asked if I could help with an­swer­ing the fan mail, and I got R5 a let­ter do­ing that. I also helped with mag­a­zine sub­scrip­tions, which meant I al­ways took the last taxi home.

“These are the sto­ries peo­ple don’t know – they see you on tele­vi­sion and don’t know the hard­ships you go through.”

Fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties came her way, in­clud­ing be­ing ap­pointed as an am­bas­sador for the 2010 World Cup along­side other South African foot­ball leg­ends, in­clud­ing Doctor Khu­malo and Phil “Chippa” Masinga.

The World Cup gig was over the minute the fi­nal whis­tle blew at FNB Sta­dium in July 2010.

“I had to make de­ci­sions on what to do next. I was un­em­ployed for a few months,” said El­lis.

She later ran coach­ing clin­ics for restau­rant fran­chise Spur at its grass­roots project, Masid­lale.

“The op­por­tu­nity to do a Uefa B li­cence came, but, be­cause I didn’t have a full-time job, I turned down the chance,” said El­lis, who hid her strug­gles from her mum, in­clud­ing when she al­most lost her car and house.

“My mother knew none of these things be­cause she would have gone mad,” El­lis said.

“Some­times I say the sac­ri­fice of to­day is the suc­cess of to­mor­row. What­ever hap­pens, there is al­ways a rea­son. I just let it go and I loved what I was do­ing. I was in­volved in foot­ball and that’s some­thing I re­ally love with all my heart.”

El­lis – who was given the Banyana job af­ter serv­ing on an in­terim ba­sis for 18 months – re­fuses to take sole credit for Banyana’s suc­cess.

The CAF A li­cence holder has al­ready ticked off two of her tasks in her tough man­date – El­lis, who has been nom­i­nated to re­ceive the CAF coach of the year award, has qual­i­fied Banyana for Afcon in Ghana and for the World Cup in France.

She is still left with the task of tak­ing South Africa to the 2020 Olympic Games.


THEN A youth­ful De­siree El­lis in Banyana’s first in­ter­na­tional matchNOW Coach De­siree El­lis has guided Banyana to their maiden World Cup

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