It’s 2012, Summer Olympics in London, it’s the 59th minute in a half filled stadium. Banyana Banyana are losing to Sweden by a startling three goals. While all hope for a goal or progress beyond the group stages seems highly unlikely, Banyana Banyana veteran Portia Modise uplifts her nation with an amazing run leading to a 45-yard goal. The crowd goes insane, the commentator grasp for air from the excitement of a scorcher of a goal.
Banyana went on to lose the game 4 – 1 but Portia Modise’s strike will remain in our minds and history books for a very long time. Portia, a legend, who left the beautiful game unrecognised.
In a country where women’s football is marginalised and overlooked, where even after years from initiation of Banyana Banyana have, South Africa still does not have a domestic league for women. Amidst all these challenges women like Desiree Ellis and Portia Modise have dared to shatter the glass ceiling to show the world that South Africa has gifted female footballers and that maybe, just maybe, women in football are a force to be reckoned with.
Women in various streams of football, including broadcasting, have found themselves voiceless and are forced to conform to the standard that football is not for women, but football is “Just Balls”. It took over a decade for female sportscasters to claim some recognition, where the few that are involved, are sometimes overlooked for “popular faces”. Print media Editors and TV producers, position the “popular faces” at the forefront of football, for what may be perceived as bringing in more sales or TV ratings. In an age of social media where the gender issues that underlie in sports are a constant discussion, which at times is futile, a well known publication Kick Off, attempted to break ground by making a Twitter announcement that TV personality and new kid on the block in football circles, Minnie Dlamini is “the first woman” to grace the covers of a 23 year old magazine. The announcement was met with mixed feelings, where most were outraged that many “iconic” women in South African football were left behind in the “firsts” narrative, depriving them of recognition that they have longed for.
The magazine in it’s history has never dared to have any of the women that have long broke ground in South African football. Women like Ria Ledwaba, who started her own football team Ria Stars in the late 80’s, a team that was later promoted to the Premier Soccer League in the early 2000’s; Desiree Ellis, who left her job in a butchery at the Cape Flats to follow her passion for football and become one of the players that played Banyana Banyana’s first international match; Carol Tshabalala who took football from the streets of Pimville Soweto all the way to Football Today in the most watched league in the world, the English Premiership. This is just a few of the women who have made great strides in a man’s world.
It is with great wonder that in all these years, Kick Off has never given us South African football fanatics a chance to hear these amazing women tell their stories. We want to hear their stories, we want to start a conversation that most footballer administrators are too jumpy to start and have Kick Off be part of the conversation starter.