It’s a gloomy Monday morning, but it takes a lot more than a bit of rain to stop this group of grannies from turning up for training. Theyre jolly, laughing and chatting as they prepare to jog around the field.
Sarah Shonisane (72) is putting them through their paces at the Muckleneuk sports ground in Pretoria, encouraging her girls to keep going and considering the oldest girl is 81, getting around the field is no mean feat.
The Gogo Shonisane Mamelodi football club is made up of sports-mad older people who love playing the beautiful game and want to stay fit no matter the weather.
The youngest member of the team is 57, the oldest is the 81-year-old running around the track and the newest recruit to Shonisane FC is Jane Bopape (74), who lives in nearby Mamelodi East.
“Jane is excited to be here for her first training session and to be part of the team. I was inspired by these elderly people, and I wanted to join them, she tells YOU. This is really worth my time,” said Sarah of bringing together the team.
Sarah, the teams founder and defender, is on a mission to recruit new blood for the side, which began in 2010 the year South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup.
The pandemic prevented the team from getting together for their thrice weekly training sessions and old age has also meant a few of the original members of Shonisane FC have passed away.
“Although, the team is mainly made up of oldies, Sarah isn’t averse to having youngsters of 35 join the team,” Sarah says everyone is welcome. “There are young people who like soccer, and they don’t know what to do with themselves. We don’t discriminate against anyone who wants to join.”
Sarah, who lives in Mamelodi West, says the team plays friendly matches against other older sides in townships around Pretoria and Johannesburg.
“Being part of the team is gratifying because she knows its keeping her healthy and strong. When you don’t exercise, life gets cut short. I don’t get caught up by all the ailments that come with old age. Even when I go to bed, I sleep peacefully,” she said about maintaining her health. “I have a home in Venda, but I hardly ever go there because I don’t want to be away from my team. I love this sport and what it stands for. I’m proud of my team and I love everyone in it wholeheartedly.”
Her biggest supporters are her football-mad family, but she admits she’s a little disheartened by her grandkids who refuse to play soccer with her.
“They play soccer by themselves,” she says, chuckling. “Maybe they’re scared to play against me.”
Sarah’s life is all go-go-go and most days she’s up at 5am. She’s a staunch member of the Zion Christian Church and starts each morning with a prayer, followed by a run around her neighborhood.
Then its back home for a bath and some breakfast, usually soft oatmeal. Three days a week she heads off to the sports ground for training with the gogos, who meet at 8am every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The thought of sitting idly at home is something Sarah can’t bear to contemplate.
“My life is constantly on the go. I don’t sit down. I even sell Tupperware,” she says with a laugh. The grandmother of two was diagnosed with high blood pressure in the early 2000s, but thanks to her exercise regimen of running and football, and daily medication, it’s under control.
“My blood pressure doesn’t bother me,” Sarah says. It’s always moderate.
Sarah, who’s single, is mom to daughter Violet Mabasa (47). She also had a son, Godfrey, who passed away of a heart condition three years ago. Soccer has been her salvation, she says.
“I’d been a tea lady at Jacks Paint [a hardware store in Pretoria]. When I retired, I asked myself what would I do with my time? I had always loved football and running, so I decided I would get the grannies in the area to help me get a soccer team started. I went to our local counselor who posted notices about the team on various media outlets and told the community about it at meetings, and we got the ball rolling. We got started in 2010, around the same time that they opened the Mbombela Stadium,” Sarah said in her recollection.
The team went through a couple of name changes, from Master FC to Gogo Sundowns and finally Gogo Shonisane Mamelodi football club.
“Mamelodi Sundowns office told me I couldn’t use the name Sundowns,” she says.” I was advised to change the teams name to my own name to avoid run-ins with the soccer authorities.”
Word about the team spread quickly and Sarah also arranged articles in local newspapers to promote her new team and to encourage people to join.
The teams players currently include Elizabeth Bambalala (78), Alice Sibanyoni (81), Diana Kgoadi (76), Francinah Mapelo (76), Melinah Lekgwani (67), Caroline Rakale, (61), Caroline Makamo (72), Josephine Selaluke (76), Florah Nhlapo (66), Rebecca Modise (57), Jane Bopape (74) and Margaret Langa (67). Soccer has always been her happy place, Sarah says, and she loves it even if she does sustain the occasional injury.
But she hasn’t taken any serious tumbles and nothing can keep her away from the pitch.
“Having your own soccer team is fun, but it’s not always easy when resources and funding are limited,” Sarah says.
Luckily for Gogo Shonisane Mamelodi FC, they recently landed sponsorship support from Dimitri Cavallineas, manager of the local branch of Romans Pizza.
Dimitri’s sponsorship has kitted the gogos with uniforms and provided them with soccer balls.
“I’m a runner and I like to see others look after themselves and stay fit,” Dimitri says. “I just sort of assist where I can. Anyone who’s interested should come and join the club. Today is the teams first training session of the year, but it needs to be cut short because of the inclement weather.”
The ladies’ spirits aren’t dampened, however. Dimitri has brought pizza and cool drinks for the team and everyone tucks in happily.
“Alice loves being part of the team. It keeps me healthy,” she says. “If I was just sitting at home, doing nothing, my stress levels would go through the roof.”
As for Sarah, she’s determined to carry on encouraging everyone young and not-so-young to be a part of her football community and live a long, healthy and happy life.
Produced in association with Magazine Features ZA
(Additional reporting provided by Magazine Features ZA)
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