21 April 2021 – Two years ago, KwaZulu Natal-based Sunflower Women’s Football Club was on the brink of qualification into the SAFA National Women’s League, but finished third in the Sasol League National Championship held in Tsakane, Johannesburg.
Gauteng’s JVW FC and MaIndies of Limpopo took the two prized spots.
The coastal side returned home very disappointed, as they had not achieved their goal. What broke their hearts even more was that they had become crowd favourites overnight at the week-long Championship because they had become crowd favourites due to the beautiful brand of football they displayed.
When the dust had settled, and they were getting ready to prepare for the 2020 season, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and they, like the rest of the country, had to close shop for some time.
Fast-forward to 2021 and they are back on the field, doing what they love most in a year where they are also celebrating their 25th year of existence.
SAFA Media spoke to Manah Nhlema, Team Manager of Sunflower WFC about their hopes and dreams in the Sasol League season and various other matters:
Congratulations on your 25th year anniversary…
Thank you, but it has been a long journey for the club. Started in 1996 by Siya Malinga, a teacher by profession with a passion for the development of young ones – and today we have a structure we can all call home.
There have been ups and downs, but the ups far outweigh the downs and that is why we are still standing today. We want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who is, or was a part of this club because we have grown together. There were times when things were tough, but the vision of seeing the young ones off the streets, and doing something meaningful in the community of Hammersdale and surrounding areas, kept the club going. I must admit, the future looks very bright.
Speaking of the future, what can we expect this season?
For us 2021 is a year of all or nothing. We missed promotion into the SAFA National League by a whisker. And how wonderful it would be to celebrate 25 years of this club with a promotion to the higher league. We are well aware that it is not going to be easy, especially because we have two streams in KZN. We will take each game as it comes and won’t get ahead of ourselves. What happened in 2019 to win the League is history, but we will use that as inspiration. We are now into a new chapter and we will do our best.
We are all well aware that we have to work harder than we did back in 2019 so as to achieve our goal of promotion.
All that is dependent on everyone in the club, we have to move in sync – the players with the technical team and the support staff – we are in this together.
Speaking of players, you still have the same squad from back then, that should make things easy…
That is a plus for us, and that situation has put the coaches at ease and we can try and pick up from where we left off in 2019. But the bottom line is that we still have to play and win – nothing is a foregone conclusion. Only one player left the club – striker Sduduzo Dlamini, who has joined the University of the Western Cape where she is studying. The players must show how much they want this promotion – we cannot rely on the performance of 2019, we are living in the now and that is very important to understand that.
You have started the 2021 season with a bang…
Yes, you can say that, but we know there is still a lot of room for improvement. We faced the University of KZN and beat them 7-0, now that is a good start but not our best.
We had four goal scorers (Sphumelele and Thubelihle Shamase 2 each, Banele Madondo 2 and Ongeziwe Ndlangisa 1). Banele is the 2019 Sasol National Champs Young Player of the Tournament. The nice thing was to see the happiness of the players back on the field after such a long period of inactivity. In terms of performance, we can still do better, and we saw that match fitness is still lacking but that will come as we play more games.
So it was a satisfactory performance.
And your next match?
We are up against Golden Horse on Sunday (25 April) and we don’t know what to expect because they are a new team in the league. Sometimes it is better to play against someone you know so you can plan appropriately – but having said that, we will have to stick to our normal game and make sure walk away with another three points.
How does it feel like being part of the Sasol League?
To be honest with you, with this league, Sasol has made sure that they improve the image of women’s football and we can never thank them enough.
Previously, no one took notice of women’s football but with them on board, things have changed drastically for women’s football – we are not where we should be, but we have made serious strides forward.
Many people are now taking this League seriously because of what Sasol has done. For them to arrange us playing kit every year is a sign of commitment, and we just have to worry about other things. In essence, half the job of running a club has been done. This also shows that they appreciate us and that means a lot.
Our national teams have players because of this league and that speaks volumes.
Let’s go back to the 2019 Sasol National Champs – you finished third and missed out on promotion.
It was a huge disappointment for all of us that we could not be promoted; we worked hard that year and were really hurt because we were looking forward to playing in the bigger league. But then again, everything happens for a reason and we believe it was not our time yet.
The plus factor in all of that is that we got something out of the tournament, walking away with several individual accolades (Young Queen of the Tournament and Top goal scorer). Also, we did better than our 2017 appearance where I believe we only came to the tournament to make up the numbers – so finishing third was a milestone for us, and showed a lot of improvement from the team. This year though, we are going to double our efforts to get that promotion.
Covid-19 – how did it affect the team?
Unfortunately for us, hard lockdown started a week before the league started in March 2020, when we had just completed our pre-season training. There was nothing anyone could do – so we had to send the players training programmes so they could work out individually. The difficulty is that it is not easy to work out in that way, and they had to improvise every step of the way with everything they had at home – bricks, buckets, tyres and so forth. Individual training is not the same as team training because when you are all by yourself you can cheat, and when you are tired you stop – the worse part is that during this period you were training for no purpose at all as there were no matches, so everyone had to motivate themselves.
The other thing is that players use sport or exercise to release the stress of studies, and most of our players are university students, so they had no outlet. At Sunflower we are like a family so we missed that atmosphere as we could not spend time together and it really affected us because it had become a norm.
From a playing point of view, I believe Covid-19 denied some of our players places in various national teams because they played very well at the National Champs, and some were due for a call-up but sadly there were no games, so that all went by the wayside. If you take all these into perspective, if really feels like a wasted year, but now we are back at it and have basically started afresh.
• Sunflower WFC was established in 1996 – celebrating 25 years of existence this year
• Based in Hammersdale, KZN
• Siyabonga Malinga founder and head coach
• Formed the club to get Hammersdale children off the streets and keep them busy
• Malinga used to play for Wanderers, he is also a professional goalkeeper coach with a SAFA Level 2 coaching certificate
• Malinga a teacher by profession – but his passion for women’s football and development of young players took him away from teaching
• He started the club from the ground, with the assistance from the locals, like Jabulani Mnyayiza who passed away last year
• Assistant coach Thabani Mdunge (from Hammersdale) – was just passing by when the team was in a training match against a boys team. He was impressed by a save by one of the keepers and he came closer to see things up close and personal, and never looked back
• Fitness trainer Ndu helps the team, and ran the pre-season training
• Team Manager: Manah Nhlema – was Team Manager of U15 boys for EThekwini Municipality squad
• Also managed the ladies team from the Durban University of Technology (DUT)
• She holds a Sports Management Diploma (2010) and BTech in Business Admin (2016)
• 2019 KZN champs and 3rd place at the Sasol National Championships
• 2017 KZN champs
• Played in the Dlala Ntombazane Tournament: got Silver and Gold
• Had majority players in the EThekwini squads of the U15 One Nation Tournament in Germany (2016 – 9 players) and Japan (2018 – 9 players)
• Took part in the 2015 Chesttrap Tournament in Johannesburg – runners up (walked away with individual accolades: Goalkeeper, Manager, Coach
• 2021 – 2 Banyana Banyana: 2 players: Ongeziwe, Ntombifikile Ndlovu
• 2020 – 1 U17 world cup qualifiers (call-up) Yolanda Nduli
• 2020 – 3 national call-up for U20 WC qualifiers: Shamase Phumelele Thubelihle, Nomali Masinga
• 2020 – 2 International friendly for Banyana: Lesotho – Neliswa Luthuli, Ongeziwe
• 2020 – COSAFA, Banyana: Onge + Neliswa
• 2020 – COSAFA u17: Yolanda
• 2018 – Uruguay FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay: 4 players: Yolanda, Yenzokuhle Ngubane, the Shamase twins – all players
• 2018 – Ntombifikile: represented U20 COSAFA
In years gone by, Sunflower WFC managed to produce national team players, and some of the notable names are: Mbali Bhengu, Xolisile Mnikathi, Nonhle Nene, Nomakhosi Zulu, Sduduzo Dlamini,