Bambanani Mbane is one of the stars of the Banyana Banyana outfit at the Cosafa Women's Championship. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

BULAWAYO – While she was growing up, Banyana Banyana centre-back Bambanani Mbane once went to a netball match and was lined up wearing soccer boots with no studs, as a form of protest to her family.

Her family, except for her one uncle who believed the now 27-year-old defender was born to play the beautiful game, didn’t want her to play football, arguing it was unfashionable for a girl to be going out for a kickabout with a group of boys.

Mbane could play both netball and football exceptionally well.

“I grew up playing the game (soccer) for as long as I can remember,” she recalls. “I was about seven when I started. I played with the boys up until 2010, when I moved to Bloemfontein to join Celtic Ladies FC. I was really good.

“The lads in my neighbourhood used to fight just to have me playing on their sides in our many street soccer matches we played in Strekspruit.

“One day there was an argument at home over which sport should I focus on, because I was good at both football and netball. My uncle, who trained me right up until I joined Celtic, argued that they should let me continue playing football. The rest of the family was against that decision.

“And what did I do? I went to a netball match wearing soccer boots which had no studs. My heart wasn’t there.

“It was right after that, when I stepped on to an opposing player’s foot in that netball match, that the family realised it was pointless for them to fight my preference of which sport I wanted to pursue. And so I just continued playing nothing but football from then.”

Mbane, who’s been in fine form in Banyana’s three matches in the Cosafa Women’s Championship here in Bulawayo, was discovered by former Banyana coach Vera Pauw in a friendly match against her side, Celtic Ladies, in 2015.

She describes her debut against Botswana as one of the most nerve-racking experiences of her playing career, although she’s far more composed and relaxed now.

The review sessions she has after every match with interim Banyana coach Desiree Ellis and her technical staff are what help her to up her game.

The centre-back, who has 14 Banyana caps, hopes her side will bulldoze their way into the final when they lock horns with Zambia in Thursday’s semi-final at Barbourfields Stadium (1pm).

And Mbane says she wants to win the title in her first participation in this southern African regional tournament.

“If I get a winner’s medal, that will be a great achievement for me and the team. I really want that winner’s medal hanging around my neck.”


The Star