By all accounts it’s been a long, hard season, says Hotspurs Ladies FC captain, Jaelin Gabriels, 16, a Grade 10 pupil at Mondale High.
The Rocklands-based outfit are gearing up for what is arguably their toughest match of the season thus far, when they face Hout Bay United FC in a Safa Cape Town Regional Women’s League (RWL) play-off fixture, in Gugulethu, on Saturday.
The women’s league consists of two streams – A and B – with the log leaders going head to head for a spot in the Sasol league play-offs. As things stand, Spurs will face off against Hout Bay, who’s been dominating stream A, which includes second-placed FC Tafelzucht.
Despite getting off to a shaky start in their opening match against Winnies Ladies, from Delft, earlier this year, in March, Jaelin and co went on to secure their place on top of the log in their group with a string of victories.
However, with matches being played under a cloud of Covid, games were called off following a decision taken by the Mitchell’s Plain Local Football Association, shortly before president Cyryl Ramaphosa’s announcement of increased restriction at the end of June. Elsewhere, matches continued until Safa Cape Town temporarily suspended games. By then, Hotspurs had relinquished their lead and by all accounts, their season had ended prematurely.
Understandably, the players and coaches could hardly conceal their disappointment, but they’ve managed to put all of that behind them and focused on the task at hand when matches resumed a few weeks ago. But, it was going to be an uphill battle trying to make up for lost time and regaining that top spot. Having to win four matches on the trot is a tough ask.
“I feel the team is ready, we must just work together as a unit, like we’ve done all season,” the young captain said.
“We’re prepared mentally and physically, now we must just go out there and do it. It’s been tough as this was our first season playing in the regional women’s league. Most of our players are still very young,” she said.
“Wow, it’s an amazing feeling to have made it all the way to the regional winners play-offs,” said coach Yaasien Solomons.
“To have the opportunity to represent Safa Cape Town at the Sasol play-offs, if we win this match on Saturday, is our ultimate goal. Everyone is well aware of all the obstacles and struggles we faced with regards to not being allowed to play and games declared as defaults. Another remarkable point is that we get this opportunity even though this is the first time we’re playing in the RW,” he said.
Solomons said the side has come a long way since that first, nail-biting draw earlier this season, winning all their matches except for that one draw and the games they didn’t play.
“I’ll never forget that first match, it was quite nerve-wracking considering you had 13 and 14 year old girls playing their first 90 mins match in the RWL league. It was a good baseline to work from, as we then adjusted our training methods to get players ready to play for the entire 90 minutes going forward. When we were allowed to play, we had to make-up a 6 point deficit and treated each game as a cup final, and thankfully, the team managed to win all 4 of them. We, the coaching staff and all at the club are extremely proud of what the team achieved this year, he said.
Club chairman, Frank Gabriels, who established the Hotspurs in 2018, concurs. I’m so proud of these bunch of young women for what they have achieved so far. All they have to do is believe and play as we have been playing, with no fear. They can reach the top and go on to greater things
“Our greatest fear was always to keep them busy as they are young and want to play football. “Training time and game days are like an escape for them t. You can hear the disappointment in their voices when you tell them we cannot pick you up as we don’t have transport, which was our biggest challenge this year. We relied heavy on the coaches to make their private vehicles available to get girls to training. With all the challenges we faced, they repaid the coaches for the trust they showed in them by playing above themselves week in and out, he said.