Growing up in the 1970’s, it was expected of girls to join the netball team but Desiree Ellis had very little interest in doing what was expected of her. Over the weekend, her lifelong determination to ignore these expectations was rewarded when she became the first South African to win the Cosafa Cup Championships as both a player and a coach.
On Sunday, the South African Women’s Football team, Banyana Banyana, won their fourth Cosafa Cup when they defeated Zimbabwe with a score of 2-1. Appointed as the interim coach last year, this is not the first time that coach Ellis has taken the trophy. She took her first Cosafa trophy in 2002 when she captained Banyana to another 2-1 victory against Zimbabwe.
Growing up in Salt River (Cape Town) during the 1970’s, her success might never have happened had she not been such a determined individual. There were no girl’s football teams and even fewer opportunities for girls to become professional football players. Her only opportunity to play the game she loved was on the streets with the boys. She eventually found a club, Athlone Celtic, in 1978 and went on to help form two clubs; Joyces United in 1986 and Spurs Women’s Football Club in 1991.
In 1993, after the fall of apartheid, Banyana was formed and the 30 year old Desiree became one its founding players. In 1994, she was promoted to the position of Captain and led Banyana to a 72% win rate, winning 23 and drawing 2 of the 32 matches played.
For her contributions to football, Coach Ellis is the recipient of many accolades. Some of them include a Special Recognition Award by Safa in 2000, the Silver Presidential Sports Medal in 2001 and a Safa Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. She was also selected as an ambassador for the 2003 Cricket World Cup and 2010 Fifa World Cup and she was inducted into the GSport Hall of Fame.
Before she was appointed coach, she was a television sports commentator and coached the Spurs, the country’s longest-running women’s soccer club. She admits that coaching helps add more grey hairs to her head, but says that it is worth it to see her players go out on the field and give it their all.
Of her achievement on Sunday, Coach Ellis is very excited but she is reluctant to talk about herself. She is more focused on praising her team for their hard work and credits them for winning the trophy. She was also full of praise for the Zimbabweans and their coach.