The left footed Noluthando Vilakazi was born and bred in Mhluzi extension two – a township where the Orlando Pirates defender, Happy Jele also comes from. Middleburg is well known for its richness in farming and it is dominated by mining, however the place also grew a professional footballer, a defender.
Vilakazi claimed asserted that she always preferred playing with boys, she found no fun playing with girls and dolls, she claimed those never caught her interest. At the tender age of 17, she was already travelling the world playing in football tournaments as she was selected by scouts at school’s sports. “I played in the USASA school games and that’s where I’d outshine my peers and where I got selected to go play ladies football provincial,” she said.
In her final school year, the left footed player got her first professional contract signing Coal City Wizard where she stayed for four years and caught the attention of national team selectors, making her debut in the under 20 women national squad. “That’s where I established myself as a footballer, (be)cause from there I went to Tuks academy, Swallows and here I am now at Palace Super Falcons,” she explained.
PLAYING IN THE SASOL WOMENS LEAGUE
Popularly known as “VIVO” In the football circles, the Middelburg born defender turns out for Palace Super Palace in the Sasol women’s league. She remains humble and dedicated to her footballing career, with over 95 caps for the national team under belt. Vivo gave us a recipe for her outstanding achievements, “well its hard work if I have to be honest, I never settle for less, I always push myself,” she said. “Like my daily routine; I wake up, I head out to the gym where I gym with the boys, then I rest, in the afternoon I go gym with my team, I have to ensure that I’m always at my level best I don’t like being in a comfort zone,” she added.
Women football in the country is not well established with lack of sponsors and exposure. The Sasol Women’s League was formed in 2009 with 144 teams across the provinces, the league has granted many female footballers an opportunity to participate in regular competitive football throughout the year.
Vilakazi compared Dominant Premier Soccer league with the Sasol Women’s League and claimed that the Sasol League is “demoralising to young upcoming female footballers” because their financial assistance is limited. “If you consider all the challenges we go through as women in football, one can give up before turning professional,” Vilakazi stated.
There are challenges but according to Vilakazi’s observations, she stated that the league she is playing for is improving and she sees it getting interesting continually. She claimed that women do not get the recognition they deserve in football, that they need to go through university ranks to stand a better chance at being recognised. “Coming from the townships with the hope of making it big to leagues like overseas” will be a challenge for an individual, she stated.
With agents acting as intermediaries in football that is not the case with women football, which makes it impossible for them to achieve their dreams of playing professionally and overseas. “Agents and endorsement deals are hard to come by for us unlike in the men’s league, I for one would like to host a tournament in my hometown Middelburg, and give back to the community but all that is just a dream without a financial ejection”. She sighed, those are the things our football association should look into and try to remedy such situations”.
A BANYANA BANYANA VETERAN
Despite all challenges at club level, the left footed player has went on to become a national team asset, featuring for the national side on 98 occasions and participating in a number of national tournaments. She stated that she had realised that there were few left footed players at the international level and used that to her advantage. However, it was through some hard work, because of that, she managed to stay “this long with the Banyana squad,” she said.
Vilakazi has been consistent for the ladies’ national team for the past decade, playing in the Rio Olympic games, world cup, COSAFA women’s cup and more. “if you look at our national team and compare it to Bafana Bafana we’ve done better, just that we’re underrated,” she said with a smile.
Banyana Banyana is currently in preparation for the COSAFA cup which is set to commence next month, under the leadership of caretaker coach Desiree Ellis who took over from Amsterdam coach Vera Pauw. “We’ve played some good football under coach Desiree, I can say that we’re solid and we play as a team another advantage is that as the players we are used to coach Desiree we worked with her although she was an assistant that also made it easy for the players to adapt to her coaching method and philosophy,” she clarified. Among her memorable games Vilakazi picks the encounter where Banyana lost to USA in the Olympics.
LOOKING AT THE FUTURE
Having represented the nation for over a decade the defender still has ambitions of plying her trade abroad. “overseas is something that I still want to achieve yes, age is catching up with me but I haven’t given up on my dream of showcasing my talent in a foreign country,” said Vilakazi. South Africa has players who represent the nation abroad in Kelso Peskin and Roxanne Barker who turns out for SC Hereeveen in the Netherlands. “For the national team I’m still available, retirement doesn’t even cross my mind, same applies to my team Palace super falcons I’m still active” she said.
WORD OF ADVICE (QUOTE)
To young aspiring athletes across the country I’d like to wish them luck on their journeys, nothing comes easy in this life game, but through persistent behaviour and prayer it is possible and much important school is very important as much as you don’t need a academic qualification in sports but they do need to get educated. Drugs and substance abuse are also a serious challenge in the country at the moment I wouldn’t advice anyone to go that route try to seek help if you find yourself in those situations, everyone deserves a second chance in life. Lastly prayer is the way to go, every morning I personally wake up and pray and it’s something that I’d suggest to each and every one. – Noluthando Vilakazi
By Gift Tlou