Banyana Banyana defender and captain Janine Van Wyk is looking forward to many more years in the national after she became the highest capped player of all time in South Africa – male or female – when she surpassed the mark set by former fellow teammate, striker Portia Modise. Modise retired from football in May last year after she made 124 appearances for the South African Senior Women’s National Team. Van Wyk broke that record to reach 125 caps when Banyana Banyana played Cameroon away in Limbe on Monday, 28 March in a 2-all draw.
The reliable defender is in Gaborone, Botswana with her compatriots to face the home side in the first leg of the 2016 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCN) qualifier set for Saturday, 9 April 2016 at the Lobatse Sports Complex. Kick off is at 16h00.
SAFA Media sat down with Van Wyk to chat about her journey.
Matlhomola Morake: First things first, Botswana vs South Africa, what are your thoughts?
Janine Van Wyk: We have been preparing very well and have just returned from the tour of Cameroon where we played two matches, winning one and drawing the other. The focus is now on Botswana, which is a very important ACWN qualifier. This is a tournament we have never missed out on since we started playing in it, so it is crucial that we get a good result. Botswana is not a walk in the park even though we have beaten them before and they will be looking to put up a good performance in front of their home crowd for their country. We must do the job here so that we make it easier for us when we play the second leg at home next week.
Matlhomola Morake: SA got a bye in the last round, Botswana beat Mauritius 11-0 on aggregate, should that worry you?
JVW: We just have to go out there and play our game. This is a new game, past results count for nothing. We
have to focus on the task at hand on the day. They defeated Mauritius by a large margin so we have to be at our best to come out victorious.
Matlhomola Morake: This qualifier is in the middle of Olympic preparations, how do you find the balance because for Botswana you need results now while for the Olympics need you to build gradually?
JVW: We have been in camp since late last year, so it’s not like we have just assembled for camp. All we need to do is to get our style of play right because we havent played many matches in the last five months and we need to get our momentum back, everything needs to be on point and these are the kind of matches that can help us towards the Olympics. We also want to qualify for the AWCN – so it’s like a two in one for us.
Matlhomola Morake: How important is it to qualify for the AWCN and to do well there?
JVW: In 2014 we missed out on the World Cup and it was a sad moment for us, and I believe after the Olympics we will be much stronger and one of our ambitions is to get gold in Cameroon later this year. We deserve it because we have come so close in the past and I don’t see why we can’t do it now, but it will take a whole lot of mental strength. First though is to beat Botswana and qualify.
Matlhomola Morake: Shifting our attention to the Olympics, the draw in less than a week away, how are you feeling?
JVW: I am really excited about the upcoming draw and I just can’t wait to know who we will be pitted against. The truth is though you can’t pick and choose the teams you want to play because all the countries that are in the draw will be tough opponents – with different qualities and different styles – so whoever you get you should prepare thoroughly.
Matlhomola Morake: Personally, you have reached a milestone of 125 caps, more than any other football player in this country – male or female – how do you feel?
JVW: I am really honoured to have come this far, I am really proud of myself to have put in the hard work all these years in the national team – 11 years and still going – I am proud to be standing here today, more so as the leader of the team. I have really come a long way and hopefully I can still contribute more years for the national team. As long as I am able to give 110 percent on the field, I am willing to do so.
Matlhomola Morake: Surpassing another great player, former Banyana Banyana player Portia Modise….
JVW: I never thought I would reach this milestone – for any athlete, breaking records is a major thing and it shows all the sacrifices from over the years are paying off. Portia was a great player and we all looked up to her, she was inspirational and was a fighter so I am happy I had to be the one to break that record even though I never thought much about it at first, it was only when I was close that I started thinking about it. However, I am under no illusion that there will come another player to break this record once I retire because women’s football in this country is growing day by day.
Matlhomola Morake: Where did it all start for you?
JVW: I started playing football at the age of six for a club called Scaw Metals in Germiston where I played with boys because there weren’t many girls who played the sport. I just carried on with my cousins, and the love of the game was so strong that I never gave up, the passion that I had gave me the drive to keep going. After that I joined a ladies team in the township of KwaThema, Springs in the east of Johannesburg called Springs Homesweepers.
Matlhomola Morake: So you played in the township, as a white girl?
JVW: It was actually the only ladies team that I could find and play for. The current SAFA Technical Director of Women’s Football, Fran Hilton-Smith, was the one that recruited me. She found the team for me as there were no other teams in the area that I lived in. When I talk about the struggle and sacrifices that I had to go through in my life, this is part of it. I had to deal with different cultures, different languages and being the only white girl in the league – I was only 14. It was difficult travelling into townships being a white girl but I just wanted to play and have fun, and look where it got me today.
Matlhomola Morake: How did you travel?
JVW: Fortunately my parents supported me from a very young age and always drove me around where I needed to be. Not only that, but they were also shouting and cheering on the side of the field during matches and I am eternally grateful for that support or else I don’t think I would be here today.
Matlhomola Morake: From Homesweepers where to?
JVW: Then Moroka Swallows came knocking but it was very difficult to leave Homesweepers because I had build such a great relationship with the players. They accepted me for who I was and they were like my family even though in the beginning it was tough. But I decided that in life you need to give different things a try, and sometimes change is good, so I went to Swallows which was much closer to home. Then I moved to the High Performance Centre in Pretoria being one of 25 girls that stayed there in 2004. From that number I was part of the 21 players that made the Basetsana (u20 Women’s National Team) which paved the way for me to play in the Senior Women’s National Team in 2005.
Matlhomola Morake: And you never looked back.
JVW: Not at all hey, and I don’t have any regrets. Everything I went through made stronger, and made me who I am today.
Matlhomola Morake: From the High Performance Centre, what next?
JVW: I only stayed there for six months because I am a family person and I could not stand being separated from them for long periods. Then I went to play for Alberton Ladies. At some point I had an opportunity to play in Denmark, unfortunately I got injured there and could not make the trials. In 2011 I went to Bristol Rovers in England for trials but again it bounced back – but this time it was different. They gave me a decision of whether I wanted to stay and play for them or wanted to go back help my country qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London – so me being a true South African I chose to come back and play for my country.
Matlhomola Morake: So it worked well then in the end….
JVW: It was a good move for me and I believe in my heart of hearts that even if they were to ask me the same thing again I would make the same choice because for me my country comes first – it comes before any personal glory. I believe things will work out for themselves and if I get a chance to play abroad after the Olympics I will take it, if I don’t it is still ok – life takes you where you need to be, I just have to deal with the circumstances that are in front of me.
Matlhomola Morake: And where would you like to go abroad?
JVW: People often say go to America because that is where the money is, but for me I believe the style of football that suits me is English football. I would really love to play there and being a true Manchester United fan, watching them everyweek would make my life so much great.
Matlhomola Morake: So what is happening with you currently outside the national team?
JVW: I own my own team JVW FC, established in 2013. I felt I wanted to give opportunities to girls who want to play football. I started a JVW Schools League before I started the club league. Already 11 players have been on trial for various national teams, so there are opportunities for them to be looked at. What fulfils me is just being there to develop them in a proper way because I get guidance frrom the likes of Vera Pauw and how development works to get them to be the best they can be.
Matlhomola Morake: So you already ploughing back to the community before you even retire?
JVW: I think it was really important because I never had that when I grew up. I also think if I don’t do it who will give them those opportunites. If I want to see a change it has to start with me, and that is exactly what I am doing. Hopefully in a few years time there will be a professional league because for far too long we have been asking for the establishement of the league. And even if I don’t play in that league it would be great to see the girls go on to become the best in the country through that league.
Matlhomola Morake: You don’t have only young girls at your club, you also have some national team players on your books
JVW: I have three players (defender Yolula Tsawe and midfielders Mamello Makhabane and Mpumi Nyandeni), and I am the fourth one. I was actually thinking about it the other day, I never thought I would have national team players in my club as I thought it would be these young girls playing for me. But I have made such a name for myself that some national team players want to join because it is so organised. I try to make everything as professional as possible. From the training drills to the kit that we wear – and it all comes from my pockets. I could be saving for a house or a car for myself but instead I would rather give to the club, and seeing these national players appreaciating what I am doing and wanting to be part of it is something to be proud of.
Matlhomola Morake: Do you remember your first national team match?
JVW: It was against Nigeria in 2005 but I had previously been called up earlier for a match agaisnt Zimbabwe, I sat on the bench and I was really upset. Then I got a run agaisnt Nigeria but we got a drubbing (can’t even remember the score) because it was those days when Nigeria was one of the toughest opponents on the continent.
Matlhomola Morake: First national team coach?
JVW: It must have been Augusto Palacios, very strict coach and I was very scared of him. I didn’t want to do anything wrong in front of him and he really took us through our paces at a very high level. I have also been under the tutelage of u20 coaches Sheryl Botes and Anna Monate. But the one that really helped me a lot would be former Banyana Banyana coach Joseph Mkhonza, who was also my coach at Homesweepers. He believed in me, encouraged me and motivated me. I am really grateful to him.
Matlhomola Morake: Most memorable moment in the national team so far?
JVW: The one unforgettable moment would be in 2012 when we beat Nigeria for the very first time and me being the goal scorer. It was great because after that I did not have to deal with people asking when are we going to beat Nigeria, adding that South Africa will never beat Nigeria. It was a great moment for me. Qualifying for the Olympics for the first time ever that same year was another great moment for me.
Matlhomola Morake: That goal against Nigeria, would it be your most memorable goal?
JvW: Probably, but there are many goals I have scored – setpieces, headers – and also a goal I scored against them in 2010, I think mainly because when I made my debut they gave us such a hiding that I have always vowed to settle that score with them. Even now when I play against them I really give my all as if it my last match.
Matlhomola Morake: Along the way you also got to captain the squad, even to this day
JVW: It was exactly three years ago and we were in Cyprus when former captain Amanda Dlamini decided to step down from leading the team. Coach Mkhonza called me aside and asked if I would be willing to captain the team, and there was no doubt in my mind that I could do it. I belive I have the characteristics of a leader, I am a strong person, I can deal with failure, I am able to lead the team when needed but I have a lot of other leaders in the squad at the moment that advise me whenever I need guidance such as Amanda who is one of the most experienced in the team. When I do need assistance I also go to the likes of Mpumi Nyandeni, Noko Matlou, Refiloe Jane, so I have a good group of leaders that are basically my wings when needed, which makes my job much easier.
Matlhomola Morake: Is there a match that you would like to forget?
JVW: Absolutely! When I played my first AWC tournament In 2006. It was WC qualifier in Nigeria where we faced Ghana in the semi-finals and only two teams would qualify for the World Cup. The last three or four minutes of the game we conceded a penalty and it’s a game I will never forget because I really wanted to go to the world cup, and it will always be at the back of my mind. The same scenario played out again in the 2014 AWC when we were all over Ivory Coast but we lost it in the dying minutes of the game also – those moments when I felt it was over for me. That moment when you dream about something and you want to achieve it, it is so close yet so far and a question mark remains at the back of my mind – will I ever get to the World Cup?
Matlhomola Morake: You have won awards along the way too…
JvW: One that will remain in my heart forever was the 2010 SAFA Banyana Banyana Player of the Year, and for me it was something big, it was also my first award. I was not even captain yet but it was huge achievement for me. When I say things work out in their own time – I am talking about last year which was a special year for me when I received the Gauteng Sports Personality of the Year Award and also won the Ekurhuleni Sports Woman of the Year Award. But being the Sports Personality of the Year in Gauteng amongst all those great athletes was something major for me. I sat down for a moment and realised that there are so many people that recognise me for what I am doing and for what I have done and all I can say is I am proud of myself.
Matlhomola Morake: Awards with Banyana Banyana?
JVW: Obviously yest, we would like to win something together, it is something that we are striving towards. I really believe we can do it, we want to be crowned African champs, it’s something I would like to achieve before I retire and I am certain my teammates would like the same thing.
Matlhomola Morake: Has the national team setup changed from the time you started to now?
JvW: Women’s football is now more recognised than in the past. Back then people didn’t take woman’s football seriously as they do now. Now there is more support and I think it changed for the better when Sasol became involved with Banyana Banyana. They are one company that really belived in women’s football, even during failure they still urged us on. Having them on board, broadcasting our matches on television and reading about the game in newspapers made people take more interest in the game knowing who the national team players are in Banyana Banyana. But also for our Association to bring in an experienced coach like Vera Pauw showed how much they valued the game. We have had really good coaches in the past, but to bring in such a well-travelled coach like Vera really showed they wanted to make a difference in Women’s Football.
Matlhomola Morake: What do you say to the youngsters in the national team?
JVW: A few of them have come to me to say Janine we look up to you, and that really inpires me that I have come such a long way and now I am role model to someone who is on the same level as me in the national team. Even with 125 caps I don’t see myself bigger than anyone in the national team, I belive we are on the same level. I just try and give them a little bit of motivation and tell them stories of what I have been through and try to say to them anything is possible if you want it bad enough, you can achieve. There will be challenges in front of you and obstacles but you have to believe, and sometimes you will feel you are not good enough. I have been through those moments many a time when I felt I had to retire but you just carry on the next day and work harder, and you feel it gets better. To this day I still get those feelings but its about how you lift yourself up, the character that you need to show on the field and mental toughness. A lot of people can get you down, even your teammates but it’s a matter of how strong you are, how much better do you want to be – each day you go on to the training field you need to be better than what you were yesterday, and set targets for yourself. So you have challenge yourself each day.
Matlhomola Morake: What does the future hold? Next five or ten years?
JVW: I will force myself to go play abroad just for the experience. But in ten years I see myself doing my coaching courses because I want to stay in the game, I have so much pasion for this sport. I also think I can contribute as a coach to any team, and maybe one day coach Banyana Banyana – but you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. I want to be a professional coach. I want to follow in the professionalism of Vera, and would like to be like her one day, but I will obviously have a different mentality and style of coaching.
Matlhomola Morake: Message to aspirant footballers?
JvW: If your dream is to play football go out there and do it, don’t let anyone else tell you that you can’t do it. There are many other players who I know their parents would not allow them to go play because it is still regarded as a male-dominated sport, but you find those players sneaking out. That for me is inspirational because they are following their dreams. Also if you work hard you will be rewarded in good time.
Matlhomola Morake: Message to your fans?
JVW: I just want to say thank you for supporting me, for accepting me for who I am. When I walk in the streets they stop and I feel the need give them my time because they also give their time to come and watch me play. I also feel as a leader of a national team, coming from an Afrikaans background it was not easy but the way they suported me really inspired me. Even when I played in KwaThema people would come and watch this white girl play, the would call me Mlungu. It’s been a great journey and I just want to say thank you because they could have made it harder for me not to play the game, they could have so easily pushed me out but instead they saw what I was capable of, and how much passion I had for the game and my country, and were behind me all the way.
Matlhomola Morake: Retirement anytime soon?
JVW: I havent thought about that hey. I can still see myself contributing for another five years or so, but if my body can still allow me I will go on for as long as I can because I am ready for a battle.
Photo credit: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix