Nearly 10 years ago, a relatively unknown Refiloe “Fifi” Jane was plucked from obscurity to take part in the Gauteng Future Champions games. It was an opportunity for the football player to jet off to Manchester to train with professionals at Arsenal and Everton.
This was the trip that would reveal to Jane first-hand what was required to succeed as a professional football player in one of the best leagues in the world.
“I got to see what academies abroad get up to and how things are being done at a professional level.”
Today, Jane casually juggles a ball from one foot to another in aCanberra United tracksuit.
The Soweto-born Banyana Banyana vice-captain has just been signed with the Australian-based football club, making history as one of the first two South African players to be signed in a professional league in that country.
Jane has represented South Africa 86 times in the yellow-and-green jersey since her career began in 2012. But football has always been more than a game for her. As the only girl among her four brothers, her passion for the game started at the age of six.
“I come from a football-playing family,” says Jane as she walks onto the playing fields at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus, where it all began. “My dad used to play and my two brothers used to play”.
Jane remembers how she would join two of her brothers, Frank and Emmanuel, for practice every morning. Little did she know just how far these childhood training sessions would take her.
Jane and Banyana teammate Rhoda Mulaudzi recently headed off to Canberra for two weeks to participate in the team’s winter programme as part of their trial process.
“The trials were not easy. We got there on a Sunday and the trials were starting on the Monday,” Jane remembers.
With no experience of nervousness associated with trials, she says she spent most of her time off the field in prayer, trying to remain positive. It was helped in no small part by the friendliness of her new team-members and her soon-
to-be new coach, Heather Garriock.
“With God everything is possible,” says Jane as she proudly wears her new kit.“I always say I will do my best and God will do the rest because He has promised to never leave me nor forsake me.”
The 26-year-old Banyana midfielder says her inspiration came in large measure from the South African women’s team forward, Nompumelelo Nyandeni, who has played for Russian football club Rossiyanka.
She marvels at the way Nyandeni handles herself on and off the field.
“She is the most positive player I have ever come across; she makes things look simple. Even if you make mistakes, she will say: ‘It’s okay, now let’s move on.’”
It’s eight years since Jane was spotted by then Banyana coach Joseph Mkhonza, an incident which led to her first Banyana call-up.She describes this milestone as a privilege because she did not go through trials to join the team.
With no women’s professional league in South Africa, being signed by Canberra rates as an even greater achievement for Jane.
Jane and Mulaudzi will be in Australia for the next six months.
Before travelling to Australia, Jane trained twice a day — alone in the mornings, focusing on endurance and stamina by doing laps on the field and then hitting the treadmill at the gym.
In the afternoons, she would train with the Tshwane University of Technology team to familiarise herself with different situations on the field.
She says her preparations played a huge part in helping her to get through the trials and to remain motivated and focused.
Her diet also needed to change to one with a higher protein content and fewer carbohydrates to build muscle and strength. To recover from training sessions, which took place once a day, three to four times a week, Jane significantly increased her water intake.
She calls the process of adjusting to life in Australia a welcome challenge.She describes it as a beautiful country, adding that it helps that the food is similar to what she’s used to.
In pursuit of her dream, Jane has become used to juggling tasks, having had to strike a balance between her life as a Master of Technology student as the Tshwane university and her football career.
She says studying is critical for an aspiring footballer: “You can get an injury anytime; you need to have a back-up plan.”
Jane admits she would probably miss her Banyana team’s tradition of singing just before heading onto the pitch.
“I am also going to miss talking my own language on the field because, in some situations you find yourself in, you will need to think of a word in English that you want to say and how you want to say it.”
Last week, Jane scooped South Africa’s sports personality of the year award at the 2018 Gauteng Sports Awards.