Desiree will love the beautiful game, forever

Former Banyana Banyana Desiree Ellis says Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs inspired her football career.

The former midfielder who now spends her time doing community projects, speaks glowingly of Giggs, who still exposes his 37-year-old body to the rigorous trials of the English Premiership.

“He is an inspiration – his work ethic, discipline and the way he looks after his body,” Ellis said.

All this gave Ellis the courage to pursue her dream, making her international debut at 30 in 1993, an age considered almost geriatric in football – and topping it all by scoring a hat-trick.

She is one of the few who has captained a soccer team for a decade, playing 32 matches and winning 23 of those.

“I think I was born a fighter, from day one I had to battle for survival. I was born a premature baby, and nobody thought I would survive. I was even baptised in the incubator! But look at me! I turn 48 in a few weeks’ time,” Ellis said.

Once she had made it onto planet earth – she was soon on the streets, kicking the ball with the boys.

A career in Banyana soon beckoned, and Ellis obliged.

“As we all know, there was no money in it in those days. After my first call-up, I was fired from my job and was unemployed for the next three years. I had no income and life was hard.”

Ellis has since reaped the dividends. She was chosen by Fifa – along with legendary figures such as Kalusha Bwalya, Phil Masinga and Doctor Khumalo – as ambassadors of the 2010 World Cup.

She now coaches a club she was once part of as a young player, Spurs Women FC, who have teams in both the Absa and Sasol Leagues.

“We are celebrating our 25-year anniversary this year. I am so proud,” she said.

Ellis has been part of the Sports Heroes Walk against Aids since its inception nine years ago.

If you get to tune on the TV tomorrow you will hear her providing analysis in the Absa Premiership clash between Lamontville Golden Arrows and Bloemfontein Celtic.

“Of all my commitments, I am mostly rewarded by the Stars In Their Eyes foundation I am a part of.

“We try to uplift communities and assist those individuals who are already doing community work.

“We put them in contact with the Dutch Football Association who provide football coaching skills as one the initiatives this worthy foundation is already doing,” she said

Fact file

Name: Desiree Ellis

Birthplace: Cape Town.

International caps: 32 and 6 goals

Debut: 1993 against Swaziland.

Honours: 2000: Captained Banyana to a silver medal in the 2000 African Women’s Championships.

2000: Silver Presidential Sports award for raising the profile of women’s football in SA.

2002: Captained Banyana to a Cosafa Cup title. Chosen for a select Laureus Friends and Ambassadors programme.

Lessons that football taught you: Character. Women in sports have to do work three times harder than men to gain recognition.

What you miss most: The camaraderie. Khabo Zitha (former Banyana midfielder) and Gloria Brown (former goalkeeper and SABC analyst) are still my friends.

Disappointments: Never played in the World Cup – or the Olympics Games.

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