Banyana Banyana’s Re­filoe Jane and Rhoda Mu­laudzi off to Aus­tralia

They’ve made history in SA women’s soc­cer with their move to a pro league in Aus­tralia. Here Re­filoe Jane and Rhoda Mu­laudzi talk foot­ball and friend­ship

DRUM - - Contents - BY THOLAKELE MNGANGA & NOMPILO GWALA

FOR YEARS, they’ve set soc­cer fields ablaze with their fancy foot­work. The dy­namic duo, who be­came friends after caus­ing goalies sleep­less nights dur­ing their time to­gether at Colch­ester United, struck fear into the hearts of de­fend­ers with their dan­ger­ous drib­bling. Now Re­filoe Jane (26) and Rhoda Mu­laudzi (28) are mak­ing history to­gether. In Oc­to­ber, the power pair will be­come the first South African women to play in the top-divi­sion women’s pro league Down Un­der after sign­ing with Aus­tralian side Can­berra United. It’s a dream come true, Re­filoe tells DRUM. “It’s not just any­one who gets such an op­por­tu­nity. We’re grate­ful to the coach for giv­ing us this shot.” The coach she’s re­fer­ring to is Heather Gar­riock. The Aus­tralian heard of the two­some’s tal­ent from lo­cal soc­cer scout Tshepo Ba­fuwi, and signed them after a two-week trial in Au­gust. But get­ting to the tri­als wasn’t easy. Ac­com­mo­da­tion would be taken care of – all Rhoda and Re­filoe had to do was book flights. But with a re­turn ticket cost­ing a whop­ping R19 000, Rhoda be­gan see­ing her dreams fade. “Four days be­fore the trial, I still didn’t have money for the flight,” says Rhoda, who works as an in­tern at Safa. Then Re­filoe came to her res­cue. The Banyana Banyana vice cap­tain, who’s cur­rently study­ing to­wards her master’s in sports mar­ket­ing, earns a salary play­ing univer­sity soc­cer. She of­fered to cover R13 000 of the costs and Rhoda came up with the re­main­ing R6 000 through fundrais­ing.

Re­filoe’s kind­ness helped re­vive Rhoda’s ca­reer, and the mid­fielder is still stunned by the ges­ture. “What she did was amaz­ing!”

Their strug­gle didn’t go un­no­ticed by the Aus­tralians – and nei­ther did their shine. “It was hard for them to get here and then to come in to a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment and play, but they’ve done very well to adapt and re­ally stood out to me,” their new coach said in a state­ment an­nounc­ing their sign­ing.

Re­filoe’s tech­ni­cal abil­ity is “sim­ply out­stand­ing”, Heather says. “And in Rhoda I can see the pace and ag­gres­sion I’m look­ing for upfront.”

For Rhoda, who hasn’t played for the na­tional team since Oc­to­ber 2017, the en­dorse­ment was just the mo­ti­va­tion she needed.

“There was a time when I felt I should re­tire from foot­ball and fo­cus on some­thing else but for some rea­son I kept fight­ing and kept on push­ing – only to find there are peo­ple out there who still be­lieve in me,” she says.

FOOT­BALL has been in their blood since they were kids, Re­filoe and Rhoda tell us. Soc­cer is the only sport Klip­town-born Re­filoe knows. “I was sur­rounded by my broth­ers, Frank (31), Mpho (36), Thabo (34) and Em­manuel (34), who played street foot­ball, so it was the only thing I was ex­posed to.

“In pri­mary school I dis­cov­ered ath­let­ics and I com­peted in the 100m and 200m. But when I found foot­ball I ex­celled in it.”

Her love of the beau­ti­ful game has seen her play for Colch­ester United in 2007, Mamelodi Sun­downs (2012-2013), Vaal Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy (VUT) from

2013 to 2016 and Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy (TUT) from 2016 to 2017.

She turned pro­fes­sional in 2012 when she was called up to the Banyana Banyana squad for the first time, but the star striker re­veals it wasn’t an easy move.

“It’s dif­fi­cult go­ing from the am­a­teur league to Banyana be­cause the level [of play] at the na­tional team is very high. You com­pete with other na­tions that have na­tional leagues and that’s where you can see we are far be­hind be­cause we don’t have a pro­fes­sional league.

“Hav­ing a com­pet­i­tive pro­fes­sional women’s league will boost Banyana,” Re­filoe adds.

Rhoda is also well-trav­elled in the women’s game. She started her ca­reer in Venda, where she was born, and joined Colch­ester in 2007. She played for Sun­downs from 2010 to 2012, and from 2014 to 2018, and VUT from 2012 to 2014.

She was five when she fell in love with soc­cer. “I used to play with boys, in­clud­ing my cousins, and when I moved to Jo­han­nes­burg to study I re­alised I love foot­ball more than any­thing.”

With a move to the pro­fes­sional league se­cured, both play­ers can now fo­cus on play­ing the sport they so love. But due to the lack of in­vest­ment in the women’s game, fe­male foot­ballers of­ten have to work while chas­ing their soc­cer dreams.

“It’s dif­fi­cult for play­ers to give it their all when they’re balanc­ing work with play­ing sport,” Rhoda says. “I re­mem­ber com­ing from work on a Fri­day night and go­ing to a game. I was tired. It was such a high-in­ten­sity game I couldn’t fin­ish it be­cause I could feel my calves cramp­ing and I couldn’t run.”

Ac­cord­ing to a for­mer player, women foot­ballers who play univer­sity soc­cer are of­fered schol­ar­ships that cover their fees and ac­com­mo­da­tion. They also get a stipend, while those play­ing in am­a­teur leagues earn a pal­try max­i­mum of R6 000 a year.

While there’s no min­i­mum wage in sport, a re­port pub­lished in 2015 re­vealed Kaizer Chiefs goal­keeper Itumeleng Khune earned around R480 000 a month.

RHODA and Re­filoe’s move brings the num­ber of South African fe­male foot­ballers play­ing over­seas to five. Banyana cap­tain Ja­nine van Wyk, Thembi Kgat­lana and Linda Motl­halo now all ply their trade in Amer­ica with Hous­ton Dash fol­low­ing years in South African soc­cer.

In her time at the helm of the na­tional team Vera Pauw said the bulk of the squad was good enough to play abroad.

And Rhoda be­lieves the Dutch coach de­serves credit too. “Coach Vera taught us to be pro­fes­sional even though we didn’t have a pro­fes­sional league. At first we played with­out struc­ture but . . . she changed ev­ery­thing. She taught us how to be­have as play­ers.”

Vera hel­ped change the way play­ers eat, trai­n and think, Rhoda says. “She gave us such con­fi­dence. Even if you had a bad game she’d tell you never to un­der­mine your­self.”

Both play­ers have the back­ing of Banyana’s cur­rent coach, De­siree El­lis, who says their move to the pro league “gives kids hope that if they do well the op­por­tu­ni­ties are there”.

The two plan to make the best of their big break when the Aus­tralian women’s league kicks off in Oc­to­ber, and they’re fo­cused on mak­ing a home there.

It’s an ex­cit­ing yet daunt­ing move, but Rhoda and Re­filoe know they can rely on each other. “Rhoda is a sis­ter to me,” Re­filoe says. “On and off the field, we’re fam­ily.”

‘It’s not just any­one who gets such an op­por­tu­nity. We’re grate­ful to the coach’

Banyana Banyana at­tack­ers Re­filoe Jane (left) and Rhoda Mu­laudzi (far right) have both se­cured a move to Aus­tralian pro league Can­berra United.

For Rhoda the Aus­tralian league is a chance to prove she be­longs in the na­tional squad.

FAR LEFT: Banyana coach De­siree El­lis sup­ports her star play­ers’ trans­fer to a pro league. LEFT: Re­filoe and Rhoda both credit for­mer coach Vera Pauw for their suc­cess. RIGHT: New coach Heather Gar­riock.

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