Tuesday 16 July 2019, 18:30

South Africa’s off-field driving force

  • Lauren Duncan leads operations off the field for South Africa

  • Says experience at first Women’s World Cup was “out of this world”

  • Hopes sponsors will come on board for Banyana Banyana

The city is Le Havre, the venue is Stade Oceane, and the crowd is going wild after CAF Women’s Player of the Year Thembi Kgatlana fires an unstoppable shot into the top corner to give South Africa the lead over Spain.

The 2018 CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations runners-up went onto lose the match 3-1, but the image of Banyana Banyana’s first goal at a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ will live long in the memory of many associated with the country.

Few will have felt more emotion than Team Manager, Lauren Duncan, who for three years has been responsible for the off field preparation and administration of the side, following a stint with the country’s Under-17 and Under-20 Women’s teams.

Duncan, a former Sasol League player herself, has seen the game grow in her native South Africa since entering the game over 15 years ago, and was overcome with emotion when Kgatlana opened the scoring in her country’s opening fixture.

“Oh my word, I am even breathless when you mention it,” Duncan said of her emotions when Kgatlana’s strike found the back of the net.

“We obviously wanted to win the game. Thembi scored and the whole stadium went crazy, it was a special goal and will stay in everyone’s minds for a long time.

“But I think everything about that goal, everything that we have been through, that goal touched us emotionally. It’s just a shame we couldn’t go on to win that game.”

The experience of being at Banyana Banyana’s first Women’s World Cup, was “out of this world,” according to Duncan, but it doesn’t come easy to prepare a team for a major tournament, especially when it’s your first.

Duncan is responsible for over 40 members of the team both on and off the field, overseeing everything from preparation for departure before the tournament, communication with the Team Liaison Officer (TLO), and even ensuring the hotel chef knows how players like their meals.

“As Team Manager the preparation and administration are something you really need to focus on because it’s an intricate part of the functioning of any team,” she said.

There are certain expectations that are quite high, there is a lot of information required, and while we were preparing for the World Cup, we were still playing international friendlies - it takes a lot of detail, energy and effort.”

Despite that effort, Duncan outlined that the tireless nights and long hours are worth it when everything comes together and you see your team at a Women’s World Cup for the first time, competing with the world’s elite.

The hope is, despite their group stage exit, that the added exposure enjoyed by Banyana Banyana will open doors for South African talent, see new fans come on board, and importantly, add sponsors that can help take the team to the next level.

“I think women’s football has changed a lot. There is definitely more attention on Banyana Banyana, people are behind us and since we qualified for the Olympics in 2012 and 2016, things definitely started to change.

“Hopefully we qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games and even more people will know about Banyana Banyana. Over the past few years we have seen more exposure for the team, but we need more sponsors to come on board and more brands to individually endorse our players which will assist the growth of women’s football in the country.”

A dedicated team on and off the field, working together towards what Duncan described as “ a common goal,” will hopefully see that rewarded with further support, ahead of upcoming COSAFA Cup and Olympic qualifiers.

“I think we are just getting better and better, there are areas we need to fix as football evolves. We have good development, we have good youth coming through, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.”