When Andile Dlamini is not in between the sticks for Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies or Banyana Banyana, she is on stage belting out House tunes. Sometimes, she is in the township training up-and-coming goalkeepers, including her young brother.
At times, she is in the studio recording her weekly programme Off The Pitch, which airs on Soweto TV. Or even busy with her fashion stuff. ‘Sticks’ is multifaceted like that. She takes on many roles with such ease. While this can be challenging for many, she embodies each of them with strength and poise.
2021 was a bit of an unkind year for her. A heart issue and Covid-19 kept her housebound for over five months, staring death in the eye. It clearly taught her the biggest lesson of her life: tomorrow is never guaranteed. And so, whatever her hands find to do – she jumps onto it without procrastinating as many people do.
“I want to do them all, and I think it’s possible; I won’t give attention to this and not give attention to that. They’re all my talents. I want to conquer everything with the time I’m given. I don’t have time because I don’t know how much time I have. Today you might be alive, and tomorrow you might die. We must live today like there’s no tomorrow. I’ll use all my talents when time is given,” she says with an air of arrogance.
It’s merely the arrogance of a person who knows her story. “In this life thing, you don’t have a second chance. You’ve got to live today like it’s your last. That’s what sickness taught me. To live today like it is my last,” she tells FARPost.
Interestingly, the first skill she started honing was singing. Her grandmother was a pastor, and as a Sunday School kid, she watched her uncles and aunts hold down the fort in the church choir. “My grandmother used to be a pastor, and my uncles and aunts used to sing; my mom also used to sing there. We were still young in Sunday school, and they used to practice at home. I fell in love with the keys and notes and everything,” she says as she belts out a few verses of Cassper Nyovest’s Siyathanda.
“I really love that song. It’s vibey. Boohle [who features in the song] is super talented.” Routinely, she leads the team in song. “I do house music, and I’m a great vocalist, by the way. I write my own lyrics,” says ‘AndyD’, whose 2016 song was titled Take Me.
She wrote the song because of how her biological dad treated her mom, leading to their divorce when she was 16. “My stepfather came into the picture and took my mom away from the struggles she had in her relationship with my biological father,” she explains.
The same uncles that would do choir practice in their Phomolong home’s backyard would play street football.
Once she started joining them for choir practice, she thought it was equally cool to chase a plastic ball with them. And they didn’t mind. It didn’t help matters that Thabo Matlaba was already a Pro. “We used to see Thabo jog in the neighbourhood,” she says.
After playing with her uncles, she found herself on the same field with boys her age. One of them was Lefa Hlongwane, who turns out for TS Galaxy. In fact, Hlongwane recalls how her football journey took flight back then in the township.
“We grew up together; we stayed in the same street. She always played with boys; we would go and challenge boys from other sections of Tembisa. “I then started training with an amateur team, eKasi. The day I discovered there was also a girls’ team, I thought it would be nice for her to play with other girls,” Hlongwane tells FARPost.
“Andile was very good; she would have easily made it as a striker.” Dlamini laughs when she tells how Hlongwane introduced her to the team. “He walked with me to the ground when I was 12. He showed me, ‘these are the girls’. I’m sure he told them he was bringing someone who’s potentially a good player,” Dlamini says.
Her first few days at Phomolong Ladies were at right-back, later switching to a striking position. She admits playing with girls taught her positional discipline. Her mom, who had watched with keen interest as she practised singing with her aunts, couldn’t understand the sudden switch.
To stop her in her tracks, she would lock her inside the house when it was time to train. Alas, ‘naughty Andile’ would jump through the window. It was only until a neighbour asked her to buy boots for her ‘talented daughter’ that she started taking notice. She got curious and went to watch her play.
“She came to the field to watch me; they sat in their camp chairs. They were impressed,” Dlamini recalls.
Straight after getting applause from her family, aged 14, she went to try her luck at Sundowns Ladies.
Anna Monate, then the head coach of Sundowns, remembers her first day and the challenge she gave her. She had to score a goal within five minutes to make the cut at Chloorkop.
The nervous teenager ran around eager to convert and become a Sandawana. “She was very slender and tiny, with lots of hunger. I could see the desire in her eyes, so the ‘five-minute thing’ was just to throw a challenge at her,” Monate tells FARPost.
Of course, her goal was a simple tap-in from a generous senior player. But that was enough to earn her a place on the team. Monate remembers how she idolised Brazil’s Ronaldinho and would try out stepovers as a forward. Now under the tutelage of Brian Dube, who replaced Monate, there was no room for those fancy Samba skills. She tried it one time, and her coach was displeased. He decided to mete out some ‘stern’ punishment.
“I was busy doing Ronaldinho styles, and the coach wasn’t happy. My punishment was being a goalkeeper.”
Little did he know that the 17-year-old would be happy in between the sticks. Months later, she was selected as a goalkeeper for the national Under-17 team. Unfortunately, she was above the cut-off age, so she missed the tournament.
Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune became a role model for her. The turning point was when the Amakhosi goalie gifted her gloves inscribed with his hallowed name. They were a reward for keeping a clean sheet against Zimbabwe.
“He came with gloves with Reneilwe Letsholonyane at Orlando Stadium. They even showed it on national TV as he handed over the gloves. The gloves had his name,” she says. “That changed everything.”
After a few national team call-ups, the hunger to represent the country began to grow. So did the pride of playing for the Brazilians.
Downs Ladies’ coach Jerry Tshabalala has seen her game evolve over time. From a rookie goalie whose goal kick never crossed the line to an absolute leader in the dressing room. “She was a go-getter. You could see she wanted to succeed. At some point, she couldn’t kick a ball over the centre line, but she spent some extra time on the ground working on it, and now she’s good at it.
But the beauty about her is that she’s not entirely focused on football. She is into music as well,” Tshabalala tells FARPost. Interestingly, one day when there was a crisis, Tshabalala had her lead the line in attack. “I once played her as a striker when we were still in the Sasol League, and she scored a hattrick,” he adds.
Dlamini, the firstborn in a family of four, has watched as the ladies’ game evolves. When she returned from the Fifa Women’s World Cup in 2019, she bought land [in Winterveld, Pretoria] to build her family a house. “Mr Patrice Motsepe gave me money after the World Cup; I bought the land. I put pipes – electricity and water. I appreciated that my family moved from a place where they were so uncomfortable. “I’m currently building. Hopefully, I will build the dream house for my mom.”
Interestingly, her 16-year-old brother, Themba, is her goalkeeping prodigy. The Caf-C License holder constantly trains him and tips him to succeed as a footballer. With all the accolades under her belt, she singles out the Caf Women’s Champions League triumph as the sweetest. She was also named Goalkeeper of the Tournament despite missing the first two games.
“I was sick for the longest time, I had Covid, and I had the issue with the heart where they said my heart had water and it was swollen. For me to go back in two or three weeks and play Caf and lift the trophy was incredible,” says the 29-year-old, whose latest musical offing is Ngicela Kukhanye, available on all digital platforms.
While juggling her talents, the 2016 Olympian, who has garnered over 50 caps, wants to rack up 100 for Banyana. But on Saturday night, she will be eyeing the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations gold medal when the national women’s team takes on Morocco.
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