Hlalele eager to play a big part again

She burst into the local soccer scene at 16, and immediately entrenched herself into the collective South African psyche with her talent and sublime skill.

In an era when a woman playing soccer was viewed with suspicion, Gloria Hlalele stood out, honing her skills on the streets of Tembisa against boys and grown-up men in the 1980s.

After making her name at Tembisa Pubs and Gloria Football Club as player and later as coach, she led Gloria FC to the 1988 Under-12 Chappies Little League title,

Hlalele was one of the first women to represent South Africa in an international game. Young boys envied her and she was an inspiration to a lot of girls who started playing soccer because of her.

But now, "Sweet 16", as Hlalele was popularly known, languishes in Tembisa, bitter. She told Sowetan's sports reporter Linda Moreotsene how shabbily she was treated by senior officials running the game, who, she claims, are not contributing anything to soccer in general, and women's football in particular.

Linda Moreotsene (LM): Tell us who Gloria Hlalele is.

Gloria Hlalele (GH): I was born in a family of three children on December 25 1965 in Tembisa. My brothers and I were raised by my school teacher mother, but she, and my elder brother have passed on, and my younger brother is in prison

LM: How did you get to play football?

GH: I would play soccer on the streets with my brothers and their friends, the only girl in the team. One day, a man called Abram Tsheole, who used to watch us play, heard them screaming my name "Gloria, pass the ball", and he was puzzled because he could not see a girl, (people said I looked like a boy), and he called me.

I ran away, but he persisted and contacted my mother, and told her how talented I was. He talked her into allowing me to play for his team - a men's team. Of course my mother initially refused, but relented later and warned him there will be trouble if I got hurt.

That is when I joined Soweto Pubs, playing with and against 25-year-old guys as a 15-year-old girl.

LM: Did the guys give you a hard time?

GH: Funny enough, they never were. I think they had always known what I was capable of. (Laughs) I was a celebrity and their sister. I had no problems with any change room politics, I was just one of the guys.

There was no favouritism and they tackled me and I also did my part. I would receive a powerful shot from my teammate, trap it and score. Playing with boys from an early age, I was used to their strength, and actually found women very weak when I eventually played with them.

LM: How was Gloria FC born?

GH: One day we decided to have our own team, named after me. I was also a coach and we played in the Tembisa League. My teammates were former AmaZulu player Joel Ranyawa and Sputla Nong.

Also, we had Tumelo Mofokeng who later played for Tembisa Classic. I don't know where they are right now. My highlights with the team was winning the 1988 Chappies Little League and being runners- up the previous year. But the team was destroyed after the sale of Ranyawo to AmaZulu, with people fighting over money.

LM: Is that when you decided to play for Soweto Ladies?

GH: Actually, Soweto Ladies came about later. The late journalist Ray Gumede asked me to get a group of players together for the 1994 Bobsave final, featuring AmaZulu and Jomo Cosmos. We were to play as a curtainraiser.

We recruited from Soweto players such as Fikile Sithole, Sibogile Khumalo and Phumla Masuku. I remember I scored 10 of the 13 goals we scored against a team from Noordgesig.

That's when Soweto Ladies was born with those players. I made a name for myself and top journalists like Molefi Mika came to cover us. In fact I think he gave me the nickname "Sweet 16".

LM: That's interesting

GH: Another interesting thing was that, when Kaizer Motaung and Jomo Sono were asked whether they would have me in their teams, they both said yes. But they were hesitant because at the end of the day, I was still a woman.

Also, while playing in Sweden in 1993, a team there wanted me to stay and play for them. I don't know what happened, but I have always wondered.

LM: What do you think happened?

GH: The move was obviously blocked.

LM: By who?

GH: That is what I also want to know.

LM: Okay. Did you find it difficult to adjust to a lower standard?

GH: I can say there was a big difference. Women were, and still are, far behind. Some were very talented. People have to understand that soccer is difficult. Some men can't even trap a ball. I looked at it as my duty to motivate and not be competitive.

LM: You were also one of the founding members of Banyana Banyana ...

GH: People such as Fran (Hilton-Smith, current Banyana team manager) decided on forming the national team after we beat the Swazi national team.

LM: Why did you retire?

GH: I was 36 when I left, and I felt I was getting old. I also wanted to focus on development and help other women. Unfortunately, I was sidelined. They (South African Football Association) told me to go to school and get a qualification. What hurts me the most is that there was no bursary. My last pay was R300. I thought they would invest in me. I feel neglected and betrayed.

LM: Do you attend Banyana games?

GH: No, I sometimes watch them on television.

LM: What do you think about their performances?

GH: They are not impressive. I think they are stuck and there is no progress. There should by now be a functioning league for players, something like the PSL. They also need to be household names like Josta Dladla or Rowen Fernandez. The way we are playing, beating Nigeria is a pipe dream.

LM: Do you think you can get involved in local structures?

GH: I think for a long time I lost interest because I was tired of starting things and watch them being taken away from me. But I'm ready to get involved in any team that might be interested in me.


Position: Striker

International Caps: 5

Goals scored: 4

Honours: 1993 - Best performer at the Gothia Cup in Sweden, lauded by Tembisa Taxi Association.