Farewell, Thembi: Udubs football star turns pro
Sensational South African footballer - and UWC 2017 Sportswoman of the Year - Thembi Kgatlana has signed her first professional football contract, joining Houston Dash Football Club in the United States.
Kgatlana, who was to complete her final year towards her BA degree this year, joined her Banyana Banyana captain, Janine Van Wyk, and teammate Linda Motlhalo, in the Texas-based club - which is coached by former Banyana Banyana coach Vera Pauw in the US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). To add to the feeling of a home away from home: a number of former UWC Ladies FC players are also plying their trades at different clubs in the NWSL.
It is the second time that the Johannesburg-born Kgatlana has to put her studies on hold to focus on her football career.
Due to the high demands of Banyana camps ahead of the Rio Olympics, Kgatlana had to press the pause button to her academic life in 2016 to realise her childhood dream of going to the Olympic Games. But she insists that she will complete her degree and has arranged with the University to return in the near future.
So how did the Houston Dash deal come about?
Things fell into place after Banyana Banyana played Sweden in a friendly game in Cape Town early this year, when Pauw asked her to join her team in the US.
“It’s an opportunity I just could not say no to,” Kgatlana says. “My goal has always been to be picked up by a professional team after the Olympics - but it didn’t work outl. Two years down the line here I am, signed by a big club like Houston Dash. It’s time now that I reach for greener pastures.”
Kgatlana is quite aware of the challenges ahead - and she’s looking forward to meeting them.
“I know it’s going to be difficult being away from home, from family and from the people who understand me,” she remarks. “But I got an opportunity that I have always wanted - and I will have to adapt, rise to the occasion and show the world my talents.”
Thembi: Taking UWC Football to The World
Among the lessons that Kgatlana takes with her from UWC is the importance of hard work and dedication - a lesson emphasised by UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, when he congratulated Kgatlana and wished her well during her send-off, hosted by the Department of Sport Administration on 16 February 2018.
“You have the world as your oyster,” he said. “So I want you to go and apply these two principles: determination to succeed; and hard work, each and every day. And I guarantee that will bring you success.”
Since joining UWC four years ago, Kgatlana has certainly been successful - and also been central to the success of the University’s women’s football team, and to the success of the national senior women’s team.
For her contribution, she has received a number of accolades, including being among the three people to be shortlisted in January for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Women’s Player of the Year Award - the most prestigious award for women footballers on the African continent. She was also chosen as the University Sport South Africa Woman Player of the Tournament for two consecutive years, and was named as the COSAFA Women’s Cup Player of the tournament last year.
Another important life lesson from UWC: the value of volunteering her time to uplift the community.
Last year she launched the Thembi Kgatlana Football Tournament to empower youth in her birth place of Mohlakeng in Randfontein, Johannesburg. Proceeds from the event were used to buy soccer balls and sanitary pads that were donated to schools, and blankets that were given to old age homes.”The tournament aims to empower youth and try to change that situation,” she says.
It’s that community spirit, as well as her fantastic football skills, that the University - and the country - will miss most.
“We are all proud of your achievements and wish you well in the US. We want to ask you to continue to be an ambassador, not only for UWC but for your country and your family too,” Prof Pretorius concluded.
“It’s going to be hard being away from home - but remember, UWC is here to support you if you get into any difficulties.”