‘Football family’ living the game

Thulani Gqirana

A STRONG belief that God will always create a way has kept the City Lads women’s soccer team going for almost 20 years. And in that time, almost a dozen players have been called up to the Banyana Banyana national squad.

The New Brighton team, which was formed by Nomalungelo Mooi in 1995, is about more than just soccer for the players. Mooi coached the team herself for five years before handing the reins over to the current coach.

She formed the team as a way to make a difference in the lives of young women.

“I was and am seriously passionate about finding ways to positively impact on young women in our society.

“I firmly believe that lack of resources should not stop anyone from trying. Prayer and the belief that God will provide has got us so far, and we are still going strong.”

Mooi believes the best way to create high-calibre players is to focus on more than just the game.

“As much as we focus on playing and winning, we look at the other aspects of our players’ lives. We take an interest in their social welfare, their studies, and have the older players who have finished school help the younger ones. We try to understand the difficulties they face at home and assist where we can.”

The passionate Mooi, who grew up in New Brighton, said when the team first started, it focused on getting players from the City Lads area, which included Grattan and Dora streets and Ferguson Road.

Since then, it has grown to include players from the rest of Port Elizabeth, East London and Mthatha.

For the team, the dusty Lads grounds with its patchy overgrown grass is a home away from home.

The Eastern Cape Sasol Women’s Soccer League defending champions practise religiously three times a week, risking injury as they constantly trip on stones in the middle of the field.

“Most of the players always have plasters on from previous falls and they never complain. They want to be here, and take the little imperfections in their stride.”

Mooi said they were very particular about who they let into the team.

“We select those who share our vision, who are not just interested in kicking a ball but in being better human beings overall.

“When they get here, the players find a family. We motivate each other through the challenges. They have sisters they can lean on for life.”

The women share the field, with broken poles that have no nets, with the men’s and junior teams of the City Lads club.

The mother of one believes they have been fortunate to have players who live the game.

Coach Terry Mrwerwe believes he is privileged to work with young women who strive to give their all.

“The players are dedicated, disciplined and work very hard. They have such a distinct willingness to learn that they make my job easy.”

Mrwerwe, who has been working with City Lads since 2000, said the two players who had been called up to the national team had proven themselves again and again within the team.

“They constantly give their all during practices and games.”

According to the coach, the team has managed to have players who have been with them since 1995 because they, as City Lads, had mastered the recipe for success.

“We always strive to keep things interesting by changing the exercises. I don’t want to have a bunch of bored players going through the same routines.

“But the technical aspect of training is important so there are drills that they can do in their sleep that are drummed into their heads at every practice, because they work.”

Mrwerwe said the team were flexible about what time they startedpractising in the evenings as some of the players had day jobs.

“We don’t try to compete with their jobs. We just want them here for training, as soon as they can make it. Technically we are supposed to start at 4.30pm but we always start around 5pm and finish at 6pm in winter because it gets so dark. In summer we go up to 6.30pm.”

The team have a strict code of conduct they adhere to. This helps them keep the players in line, which include coming to practice at all times and returning the team kit on time – and clean.

Although they practise at the Lads grounds in Ferguson Road, the logleaders use the nearby Chevrolet Stadium for their home games as it is better kept.

Team captain Lumka Mjana, who has been with the team since it was formed, said there was no group of players in Port Elizabeth more committed and focused than the City Lads women.

The 30-year-old Mjana said the team was like a second family to her.

“When you first join, you are welcomed almost like a long-lost family member and you make friends for life.”

She believes the team set very high standards from the day it first started and they continuously work to uphold them.

“Respect and self-discipline are key. Players know that they cannot drink the day before they have to play. That commitment to the team and each other means we are always pushing to be the best and we fight to remain at the top.”

Nwabisa Majola, who happens to be the youngest and the tallest player in the team right now, said she loved playing for a team that had managed to achieve so much with so little.

The 13-year-old New Brighton girl joined the team because she hoped to play for the national team one day.

“I joined almost a month ago because there have been so many players from here who’ve played nationally. It’s so awesome for someone my age to play with such experienced players who can teach me a lot. Its a great team.”

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