Kholosa Biyana, Spain-based midfielder of the Sasol-sponsored Banyana Banyana, says they will forever be grateful to the Sasol League, which was their breeding ground before making it big.
Biyana is on the books of second division side Sporting Gijon, whom she joined in October last year.
They face RCD Espanyol de Barcelona SAD on Sunday, 2 May in a crucial match following a 4-1 loss to UD Collerense last weekend.
With five matches before the league rounds off, they have to win at least two matches to be completely clear of the relegation zone.
She last played for Banyana Banyana in the 2019 COSAFA Women’s Championship.
Biyana spoke to SAFA Media from her new home in Gijon, Spain.
It’s been a long time, how are things going?
I must admit things have been going very well, save for the unexpected loss last weekend to bottom side Collerense, which put us under pressure to do well in the remaining five league matches. With the rescheduled and reworked league programme it has now become a bit complicated, as the zones have been divided due to Covid-19. Normally we are 16 teams in the league, but now we have been divided into the North and South streams – each with eight teams. I am confident though that we will win at least two games to be safe – we are left with three home matches and we normally do well when we are hosting. Gijon has lost only one home match this season.
Personally, how have you been?
Look I have been playing 90-minute matches week in week out, so I am in a happy space. I was hoping that I would help my side get promotion to the first division, so I guess we will have to try again next season.
I have played 17 of the 19 games the team has played this season – and most of them 90 minutes since my arrival in October last year, so that is a good return.
Speaking about your arrival, how were you welcome?
Sadly, I arrived here while I was still recuperating from a knee injury. The operation was done in Cape Town during the Covid-19 lockdown, and that for me was a good period as it gave me enough time to recover – it really worked well for me.
So arriving in a new country, city and club was very difficult because I didn’t speak the language. But the saving grace was the coach who spoke English and another player from Brazil that once played in the USA, so I could communicate with them and they helped me a lot to settle. Language aside, I was warmly welcomed by everyone. The food, however, was a big challenge – a serious change from where I came from. The weather was pretty much like Cape Town, so that was okay.
And on the field?
Remember I didn’t play immediate but when I started to play, I realised they were playing very quick football, something I was not used to. Also I had to stick to certain ways of playing and could not do my thing, so it was a very tough period for me. To add on to that, due to the injury and not being active, I had gained some weight so I was too slow.
So many things were against me but I kept on going because I told myself that I wanted to be here, no one forced me – and I made a vow with myself that I will tackle the challenges head on, and that is exactly what I did, hence I am still here.
And your new teammates?
The group I was playing with supported me a lot and they made me feel at home. They heard that I was at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France and they were looking forward to seeing me up close and personal.
We have a young team, with an average age of 17 – and they did not make it difficult for me to adapt.
The warm welcome kept me going when things got really tough. I was overwhelmed by the support, especially after I have heard how some new players are treated at other clubs.
You were still studying when you left Cape Town…
When I got to Spain I spent most of the time recovering from my knee operation. I used that period to continue with my studies. I managed to complete my Honours in Biokinetics with the University of the Western Cape.
Education has always been your thing…
Indeed, education is key especially in women’s football where we don’t have so many opportunities in football – so it’s important to always have something to fall back on, especially because we are being offered bursaries to study – something we are eternally grateful for as women footballers.
So where did this education journey start for you?
It has been a long one and I am super proud of what I have achieved.
This started back in 2015 when I completed a Diploma in Radiography at DUT (Durban University Technology).
I then did my Community Service back home where I come from in the rural areas of Engcobo for one year.
Then I worked in a hospital but resigned to pursue a Degree in Sports Science, which I completed in 2019.
The following year I started with my Honours Degree in Biokinetics at UWC – but then left for Spain in October. However, thanks to the injury I was nursing, I managed to complete it on line.
My focus now is on football, but don’t rule out a Masters in the not so distant future – I first want to adapt to the rigours of playing regular football and plan my things well. At the same time, I don’t want to lose the momentum of studying, so time will tell.
The big target is to qualify to be a Doctor.
No studying for now, so what do you do in your spare time?
Gijón is a large coastal city in northern Spain. It’s known for its maritime heritage and the old fishermen’s quarter of Cimadevilla. Santa Catalina hill has a clifftop park and sculpture. The 18th-century Revillagigedo Palace houses an international arts center. It adjoins the Collegiate Church of San Juan Bautista, now a concert hall. Nearby is the 16th-century Clock Tower, with a museum about the city – wikipedia
For me, there is not much to do here. I don’t go out so I stay at home and read my radiography and Sports Science books so I don’t forget what I studied. But when I get tired of those, I just go cycling near the beach or go to the gym. Other days as a team we go sightseeing. And I watch a lot of movies.
Family back home?
I also touch base with my family back home during that spare time – I had to teach my mom how to you use the watsup video call so we can talk and see each other daily.
Missing home can be a very big challenge at times but I am always reminded of what I am here for – to follow my dreams. What helps a lot in that regard is that I am used to staying away from home because I was sent to boarding school at a very young age – but the time does come when you really miss those back home. When you are in South Africa, you would just jump on the bus, or fly but here you have to accept they are not around.
More than anything, the fact that I am playing all the time is also my saving grace.
You have your compatriots all over Spain – do you get to see each other?
Unfortunately not, because of the vastness of the country and our playing schedules, but we get to speak often. In fact, we speak a lot here than we do back home – the fact is, they are the closest people I know at the moment. When I have challenges I call on them. It is quicker to call them when I have a problem and they may be going through the same challenges and will understand better and quicker, and help where possible. Some of them have been playing abroad for a while so they know the challenges.
How good is having Banyana Banyana players abroad?
We are playing at a higher level, and others are facing some of the best players in the world, so we are bound to improve and help the national team. Us being here is also an inspiration and motivation to those left behind to have something to strive for, to work towards. The good thing about playing overseas is that the individual prospers – and when that happens, it means when those individuals come into a group they help the group prosper too. So this is good for South African football to see so many Banyana Banyana players playing outside the country, it means we are growing as a football nation.
You haven’t been in the Banyana Banyana camp since 2019
Yes, I was called up for the last two matches against Botswana and Zambia but due to Covid-19 restrictions at my club I had to decline the call up. And I am glad that they did very well – winning the two games. That was impressive. I do miss the squad because it is a different vibe there, but the time will come when we are allowed to rejoin. I know there are FIFA calendar dates coming up in June, and the good thing is that most likely I will be back home for the break. So, I can’t wait because the last time I donned the national team jersey was when we won the 2019 COSAFA Cup in July/August. In November I was part of the squad that travelled to Japan but I was on the bench.
Sasol League is where you made your mark before Banyana Banyana
To be honest with you the Sasol League has opened the doors for all of us – I can safely say if it weren’t for them giving us a platform and an opportunity, we would perhaps not be playing abroad. The SAFA National Women’s League is only in its second season – so before it started we were all playing Sasol League. For us to get to Banyana Banyana and be spotted, we had to start somewhere. None of these would be possible if it wasn’t for the Sasol League – I believe they have created an equal playing field for women’s football in South Africa and the fact that they are still in it, speaks volumes. Without the Sasol League, women’s football would not be where it is at the moment in our country. They deserve our applause.
Message to aspiring youngsters, especially those at Sasol League
It is a known fact that they want to see themselves playing in the National League and also in the various National Teams – so they must look after themselves and know what they want out of life and their careers. They need to believe in themselves, so that when an opportunity comes it finds them ready. If you believe and work hard at it, anything is possible.
What are your hopes and dreams in football?
First of all I want to be consistent with my play, because good players don’t perform well this week and drop the following week – they maintain the same level or get better. Even though it sounds and feels like I have been here for a long time, I believe I still need to adapt nicely to the way of doing things so I can always perform at my best. The aim right now is to improve more as an individual and help my team get promotion into the first division. All my life, things have been falling into place nicely, and even here I don’t want to jump any stages – just do the best I can and when the time comes, maybe I will start looking for other adventures.
For now, I am in a happy space here so that helps with my mission.