The Citizen (KZN)

Hockey’s Phumz is a keeper

When Mbande isn’t keeping goals out on the field, she tries to balance the books at work.

- Ken Borland

Hockey, being a largely amateur pursuit in South Africa, has led to the implementa­tion of delicate balancing acts by our national teams, but if one player stands out for an ability to juggle the demands of work and playing internatio­nal sport then it is women’s goalkeeper Phumelela Mbande.

“Phumz” was the star of South Africa’s World Cup campaign in London last week, and was named Player-of-the-Match for her sensationa­l display in salvaging a 1-1 draw with world No 3 Argentina. But like Wonder Woman changing into the work clothes of Diana Prince, her civilian identity, Mbande takes off her pads, glove and chest protection and, when she returns to South Africa, will continue slogging away at her “real job”.

The 25-year-old is a qualified chartered accountant and is busy doing her articles with PriceWater­houseCoope­rs, a daunting enough task on its own without having the added “burden” of ensuring she remains South Africa’s first-choice goalkeeper.

“It’s definitely not easy doing both, but there have been so many people willing to help, especially my varsity coaches at Tuks and PWC, I always say how lucky I am that everyone is willing to meet halfway. It’s been very tough and it has been a huge learning curve for me as a person, but I’m grateful for all the help I’ve had to make it easier,” Mbande says.

Hailing from Pietermari­tzburg, Mbande started playing hockey in Grade Five at Lynford Primary School and the challenge of being the goalkeeper and having a hard object fired at you from close range was appealing from the outset. Mbande agrees that it takes a special type of person to want to be a hockey goalkeeper.

“In all the teams you see, the goalkeeper is usually a standout character, you certainly won’t miss us,” Mbande laughs. “The position definitely suits me personalit­y-wise, I’m a typical first-born, I like to get my way and I’m pretty independen­t. Goalkeeper­s are part of the team but we think of ourselves as a team within the team.

“Being a goalkeeper has definitely allowed my personalit­y to bloom.”

Mbande then went to Carter High School and she singles out the arrival of Marie-Laure Johnson as a teacher there when she was in Grade Seven as being pivotal in her developmen­t.

“If there’s one person who has been a major influence then it’s Marie-Laure, who basically adopted me. During the World Cup now I went to visit her mother who lives in Stratford and that just shows the great relationsh­ip we have. She encouraged me to go and play at Collegians, where I was by far the youngest at the club, but I was able to be coached by Brian Edwards (former national captain who coached both the men’s and women’s national teams).

“Marie-Laure would give me lifts to the airport, bought me my first own kit and, outside of hockey, played a huge role in my life. She was definitely more than a coach to me, she’s a mentor and a friend.”

Mbande’s academic excellence earned her a PWC bursary to the University of Pretoria, where she also received a sports bursary, and she made her debut for South Africa in 2013.

Initially she was playing in the considerab­le shadow of Sanani Mangisa, one of the country’s greatest goalkeeper­s, a double Olympian capped 112 times between 2006 and 2016.

“It felt like a great achievemen­t to start out under Sanani because she was the first hockey personalit­y I really looked up to, after she coached me in Grade VIII.

She noticed one of my strengths was how hard I can kick the ball and it was awesome to come into the national team with her still there.

“But it was also very disappoint­ing not to make the squads for the 2014 Commonweal­th Games and World Cup. But I’ve learned quite a bit since then and I’m definitely a better goalkeeper now, I manage pressure better. But I still wish I had more time in the national team with Sanani,” Mbande says.

With the continued support of her mother, the shoulder she has always cried on the most, Mbande says, and her two younger brothers, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo are the next big sporting goal for one of the new stars of South African hockey.

“This was the first World Cup I’ve played in, so I was pretty excited to play so well and end on a high after we did not start so well. Considerin­g everything that’s available to South African hockey teams, the Olympics are definitely top of the food chain and I would love to make it to Tokyo.

“But it’s one step at a time and God willing and if my employers allow it, then the Olympics will be my next big thing. Maybe one or two of the players will retire before then, but we still have a good group of players and massive talent, and two years is a good period in which to build.”

Mbande will be at the forefront of those plans and the excellence and determinat­ion she brings to all her endeavours can only be good for the game.

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 ?? Pictures: Marcel Sigg ?? AMBITIOUS. South Africa’s latest hockey sensation Phumelela Mbande has set her sights on representi­ng her country at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Below she is in action for the Blyde River Bunters in the Premier Hockey League.
Pictures: Marcel Sigg AMBITIOUS. South Africa’s latest hockey sensation Phumelela Mbande has set her sights on representi­ng her country at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Below she is in action for the Blyde River Bunters in the Premier Hockey League.
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