ITS BEEN OVER a year since Desiree Ellis had been Banyana Banyana’s interim coach following on Dutch mentor, Vera Pauw’s departure at the tail end of 2016.
Her installation in the caretaker role had gotten to an affirmative start with a 3–1 victory over Egypt in a friendly at Soweto’s Dobsonville Stadium.
One of three candidates shortlisted for the vacant post – with the immediate challenge being to steer the national women’s team to qualify for the 2018 Women’s African Cup of Nations tourney to be hosted by Ghana as well as the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup – Ellis, who’s won the Cosafa Women’s Championship as a coach [albeit it in an interim capacity] and a player, would be justified in wondering just what more she ought to do to convince the like of SAFA CEO Dennis Mumble, to formalize her tenure.
A founding member of the South Africa women’s national football team, Ellis initially went for trials for the national team and passed and subsequently made her international debut in 1993 at the relatively ripe age of 30 – a time normally considered as near or retiring point in professional football, or general sporting terms, for that matter.
In that first game of hers for the team nicknamed Banyana Banyana [Girls Girls], she even scored a hat-trick in a 14–0 rout of Swaziland. The following year she became captain of the side and subsequently led Banyana until her retirement in April 2002.
A midfielder and one of the few individuals to have captained a football team for an entire decade, Ellis led the way in helping raise the profile of women’s football in South Africa.
When the country hosted the African Women’s Championship in 2000, she skippered the side to a runners-up finish. Ellis was given recognition for her services to soccer in the same year when she received a Silver Presidential Sports Award. In 2002 she led Banyana to the Cosafa Cup title.
During her time in the South Africa team she enjoyed tremendous success, playing 32 matches winning 23 matches, losing just seven and drawing two – a win rate of 72%.
Along her biographical journey, Ellis also made a successful transition from player to pundit when she served a stint as a soccer commentator on the television station e-TV.
Ellis grew up in Salt River in the 1970s with her father Ernest (who died in 1989) and her grandmother and there were no women’s clubs. She played soccer for boys’ clubs with boys and her cousins.
After school she’d drop her school bag, change her clothes and run outside to her waiting teammates. Her father often threatened to send her to school barefoot because she’d ruin her shoes while playing soccer.
Ellis eventually found a women’s club, Spurs Ladies while she still worked at a butchery in Lansdowne, mixing spices.
She once left town with the club over a weekend, promising her employers that she’d return in time for work but the vehicle the team was travelling in broke down on the way home, making her fail to arrive on time. Consequently, Ellis got fired.
She also had many administration occupations during her playing career. She was the vice-president of Western Province Women’s Football Association from 1994 to 1995 and later the PRO of the association from 1996 to 1997.
Along her biographical journey, Ellis also made a successful transition from player to pundit when she served a stint as a soccer commentator on the television station, e-TV.
She also worked as a Chief Librarian at the photo agency, Touchline in 2001. Her standing in South African football was made clear when she was chosen to be an ambassador for the FIFA World Cup when it was held in her home country in 2010.
On 30 May 1993, at the remarkable age of 30 in a game Banyana Banyana ended up winning 14–0 against Swaziland- Ellis scored a hat-trick with two other players.
During the 1995 World Cup qualifiers, South Africa beat Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola on aggregate, 10–1, 11–5 and 6–4 but was halted by Nigeria beating them 11–2.
When South Africa hosted the 2000 African Women’s Champs, she captained the side to a runners-up finish.
In 2000, Ellis was nominated alongside Merccy Akide andFlorence Omagbeni for African Woman Footballer of the Year.
 Ellis was given recognition for her services to soccer in the same year when she received a Silver Presidential Sports Award. She also led the team to the2002 Cosafa Cup victory.
In her 32 caps for South Africa she won 23 matches, lost just seven and drew two. She retired from soccer in April 2002 at the age of 38.
Initially one of five siblings who numbered a brother and four sisters, one of whom passed away on the morning of the semi-final between Spain and Germany pending the 2010 FIFA World Cup – 54 year old Ellis prepared herself for her post-playing future by accruing licences and certificates in coaching between the years 2009 and 2016.
Worth mentioning, these include unaccredited intermediate coaching certificate KNVB World Coaches Course in 2009; Teaching Skills in Football Course Certificate KNVB World Coaches Course 2009 and Advanced Coaching Certificate KNVB World Coaches Course 2010.
Accredited amongst her qualifications include a CAF B License in 2013; CAF A License 2014/2015; DFB Coaching Course [Germany] 2015 and a FIFA Coaching Course attended in 2016.
In what should count as a confidence booster for her coaching CV, this past September saw Ellis leading a Banyana Banyana team comprising entirely of locally-based players in lifting the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Champions Cup in Zimbabwe.
Her team had reached the final after having come back from 3-0 down with a mere 15 minutes to go against Zambia in the semi-final. They went on to beat hosts and defending champions’ Zimbabwe in the final – and had one of theirs, the nimble-footed Thembi Kgatlana voted Player of the Tournament.
Just less than a fortnight after having ‘celebrated’ her first anniversary as South Africa’s senior women’s’ team interim mentor, Ellis was back at the venue of her flying start against the Egyptians, as her charges took on the Lady Stallions of Burkina Faso in a friendly match.
Ellis and the mother body SAFA, would have been heartened by the enthusiastic and songful support of hundreds of fans who turned out at Dobsonville Stadium – which has turned into something of a happy hunting ground for the outfit.
Having eked out another positive result [4-0] against the Burkinabe, which came shortly after their victorious COSAFA exploits, and coupled with the team’s headline sponsor SASOL’s extension of its partnership in the further development of women’s football – Ellis and her girls had much to look forward to, ahead of AFCON qualifiers in the coming year.
That most recent move in the right direction had helped wipe off the disappointment of the past year at the Women’s AFCON tournament in Cameroon, where Banyana Banyana could only manage to place fourth.
Although still the team’s caretaker coach, through the results record of the past year, Ellis has been able to garnish her resume in a favourable light, a factor which should stand her in good stead for consideration to the vacant post – that, considering that some of her team’s triumphs have been achieved with some of the most established and experienced players, such as US-based skipper, Janine van Wyk and striker, Jermaine Seoposenwe, invariably missing matches due to club commitments.
With the duo being but part of a contingent currently studying and plying their professional trade overseas – a situation described by SAFA president Danny Jordan as win-win.
Having seen to a wide pool of playing personnel Ellis maintains that the door hasn’t closed on the like of former skipper and fellow midfielder Amanda Dlamini, even though she has yet to receive a call up under her tenure.
And so that even if she were to miss out on the primary job Ellis, who has been learning the technical ropes for some while now – can continue with her head held high in the knowledge that she has played a commendable part in contributing toward Vision 2022’s trajectory of seeing more than 5 million South Africans being involved in the game and with the majority of those being from the rank of females.
Having begun her playing career with Saban United, Ellis went on to chalk up some 632 appearances at a senior level between the years 1978 to 2002. She would also go on to manage Spurs Ladies from 2006-2016 – after having turned out for the outfit from 1991-2002.
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Asked which ambition she’d harbour personally and team wise, were for her caretaker role to be translated into a fulltime one, Ellis responded thus: “Well, obviously for the team to qualify for the 2018 AWCON, win the 2018 AWCON and in turn qualify for the 2019 FIFA World Cup – and in turn improve our ranking to give our players the opportunity to be scouted to play in the top leagues in the World.”
- Mobil Achievement Award by WP Sportswriters: 1980
- Safa Women’s Inter-provincials: 1986, 1989, 1992
- Foschini Cape Woman Football Player of the Year: 1989, 1993
- WP Player of the Year: 1983, 1993
- Sanlam Sports Star of the Month (November): 2000
- Safa Special Recognition Gold Award: 2001
- Presidential Sports Silver Award: 2001
- Mandisa Shiceka Role Model Award by ANC Youth League: 2001