Women football is on the upward trajectory and one name deserves respect amongst other, is that of a retired former Banyana Banyana coach Fran Hilton-Smith. She is the genesis of women football in the country and without a doubt she outlived the critics and racism associated with the sport.

The legendary Fran Hilton-Smith (66), one of the greatest pioneers of ladies football on the African continent. Image: Supplied

Fran Hilton-Smith (66) is a retired former South African women’s national team head coach, coaching instructor, former technical director of SAFA, and currently working in CAF and COSAFA where her main duties are to coach female coaches and guide them on how to navigate and become qualified coaches in the male dominated field. Retired; but Fran is still much involved in the game, she still mentors coaches on a daily basis and is also involved in other projects that has to do with women football, such as the development and scouting from grassroots level.

The journey has been good for Fran and seeing Banyana become a top team in Africa really left a sweet taste in her mouth. Champions of Cosafa, champions of the Aisha Buhari Cup and they recently qualified for the African Women’s Cup of Nations which will be played in Morocco this year June, all under the leadership of coach Desiree Ellis who Fran worked closely with. Hilton-Smith is now hoping for the Olympics and another World Cup qualification because women football is fast growing in South Africa, so competing at the world stage makes sense; financially as well.

Fran is dedicating her ample time to school’s football, especially in the rural areas, getting young girls involved in the sports and coaching because it is good for the national team and its sustainability. Scouting players for Banyana from grassroots level is more important “developing coaches for me is a big priority” she said.

Amazingly she has developed twenty-seven (27) CAF A License women coaches in her time and it is the most in the whole of Africa, and most of them are doing well in the industry. Desiree in the South African women national team coach and most teams in the Hollywoodbets Super League are coached by women – Simphiwe Dludlu for one and Amanda Dlamini – grace our screens from time to time analyzing matches for SuperSports. It is not by fluke; women football is on the rise, women football is now a force to be reckoned with.

Fran may have retired, but she is still in the technical committee of CAF and pushes for women football hence we had the first women’s Champions League this year which was won by Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies team. Women coaches are capable of coaching at the highest level of football and Fran made it clear that they just need experience and the right qualifications which is why she completed her UEFA B license in the Netherlands a while back to be able to put her skills and knowledge to women’s football.

Fran Hilton-Smith with her book “Fran A song for Banyana” which is her autobiography detailing her life in football as well as music, teaching and motor biking. Image: Supplied

CAF made a ruling that all the PSL teams must have a women’s team, but Fran is really not convinced it that will happen because she believes it’s going to be hard to implement as the PSL teams are struggling with the men as it is and the costs for women teams will be high. Lack of sponsorships is such a big problem everywhere, especially for teams in the rural areas, lower leagues and all the development structures. “We misinterpret the word “sponsor” for money, “and sometimes having enough soccer balls makes a huge different” she said.

In closing, Fran made it clear that she follows talent and is dedicated in giving every girl out there a chance. “The door is always open and every girl out there that is good, practices her skills and looks after herself will get my attention, I always receive calls to come and scout players” – said Fran.

She has people (scouts) working closely with her that are directly linked to Banyana-Banyana, so there is a chance for everyone in the national team wherever you are.

Fran Hilton-Smith is a heroine and her life needs to be celebrated while she is still alive. Her amazing work in women football cannot go unnoticed. As The Village Mag we are privileged to have had a conversation with this legend and honestly we learned a lot. Her book is available at major retail and online stores.

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