Bafana Bafana

EXCLUSIVE | Football stalwart Fran Hilton-Smith opens up to Sport24: 'Danny and I never got on'

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Pitso Mosimane and Fran Hilton-Smith (Gallo Images)
Pitso Mosimane and Fran Hilton-Smith (Gallo Images)
Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images
  • Fran Hilton-Smith, who has a 40-year legacy in South African football, talks about her book - A song for Banyana - and overcoming death threats to make it to the top of the game.
  • The former South African women's national team head coach assesses the state of SA football and explains why not hiring a full-time technical director is harming our football. 
  • The 66-year-old, who was retired three years ago by SAFA, also reveals the personality clash between herself and SAFA president Danny Jordaan and why she's hoping for change.

Sport24 asked: Why did you feel A Song for Banyana was a fitting book title?

Fran Hilton-Smith: Because Banyana translates in English to women and I've been involved in women's football and developing women as players, coaches and administrators for 40 years. Banyana references the women's senior national team and also applies to the jazz band I played in, which was known as Basadi Women of Jazz (Hilton-Smith was a bass guitarist and once famously played for Nelson Mandela). It all links with women, so that's why I came up with that name.

My dream has been to give back and to develop women in football and I think I can sit back and confidently say I've done that. I have been described as a "crusader for women's rights" and it's absolutely how I see myself. I want my book to be a bible for women in terms of how much you can endure and still survive and be successful.

Right throughout my career, but especially in 1993, I went through a torrid time and my life was even threatened. Everything was always a struggle and was never done willingly. However, I came out the other end having achieved much of what I wanted to in football. I always dreamed I could make a difference in women's football but never thought in my lifetime it would be a reality. The point of this book is that anything is possible if you don't give up.

Sport24 asked: How would you asses the current state of women's football?

Fran Hilton-Smith: Since I left (SAFA) three years ago, I haven't been replaced. My position hasn't been filled. It can't be a financial issue if, by all accounts, they are giving each member of the NEC money. A failure to fill that post is problematic because there is not much happening with regards to development. When I was there, over the years, I developed 27 Caf A-licence women coaches. I also did three Fifa courses for female administrators and we have 87 women who completed those courses. Many of them are now presidents, vice presidents and administrators. Unfortunately, over the last three years, none of that has happened. Women's football needs attention, that's for sure.

Sport24 asked: What is happening in terms of the technical director role?

Fran Hilton-Smith: Frans Mogashoa was appointed as the acting technical director in 2020. He took over from Neil Tovey, who was in the role since 2015. It's such a crucial position that you need a full-time person who is carrying out all the mandates as the technical director. I know Frans does his best, but it's one of the most vital positions because it deals with development, coaches and all that, which is the backbone of football. When Neil was serving as SAFA's technical director, my interactions with him were fantastic. Neil was really innovative and one of his masterstrokes was to put the 18 provincial technical officers in place.

It was a really brilliant idea of his and of course, I fought for nine of them to be women from the provinces, which ended up happening. Unfortunately, when Neil left, I did too and that was one of the first projects stopped. All the provincial technical officers who were employed full-time at the time were stopped dead in their tracks.

For me, it's really sad because they were the ones we turned to for selections as they were the eyes and ears on the ground around the country for us. It was a big loss for football that that project was discontinued two years ago. There is certainly plenty of work to be done to get us up to where we were and where we should be.

Sport24 asked: Your take on Ria Ledwaba running for the SAFA presidency?

Fran Hilton-Smith: I believe anyone should be allowed to stand (for the post) and have equal opportunity in terms of being elected. All we can hope for is that the elections are fair and transparent. As far as Ria is concerned, she comes from a footballing background and ran her own team. She has vast experience in the game, both on the men's and women's side and has been around for years. I think she could easily step into a role which comes with a lot of power and I don't see any problem with that.

Danny Jordaan has been there since 2013 and I believe there is a lot that could be done. Often a new broom sweeps clean and we must hope that is what happens with next month's elections. Danny is running for a third term and I suppose everyone wants to stay in the top spot and he is no different. He aims to be there, wants to be the president and can't give that up. I believe he also had visions of being CAF president, but at 70, if I'm not mistaken, you can't be on CAF at that age.

I think SAFA is the one area where Danny can still retain a position. I will support anybody that stands (against him) for that position because I think a change is as good as a holiday. Whoever comes in, I'm sure they will try and make a big difference. What we need is to see football growing.

Sport24 asked: What were your interactions like with Danny Jordaan?

Fran Hilton Smith: My interactions with Danny were never good. He was someone who liked to scream and shout at me. He, of course, retired me off three years ago. I was very upset about it because I felt I still had and have a lot to offer and my ability could be far better used. It's quite possible a personality clash saw me being retired from SAFA.

The truth is that Danny and I never got on. I was at pensionable age, but I don't think age has got anything to do with your ability to carry out tasks. The fact that I'm still doing coaching, development and leadership within Africa and the world means I still have the capability. I think that's all that counts and it's got nothing to do with age. I was bitterly disappointed that I couldn't continue doing work for SAFA.

They haven't included me in the technical committee even though I've been on CAF technical committees for 10 years. Dennis Mumble (who has written that Jordaan is "now governing with smoke and mirrors") knows Danny better than anybody in South Africa. They worked very closely together for many years at SAFA, with Dennis serving as CEO. If anybody knows the truth and the ins and outs at SAFA, it's certainly Dennis. That is why when he talks, people listen because he was there and was in the know. A reason given why he left was because he couldn't deal anymore with the way things were running.

Sport24 asked: How would you appraise our senior national teams?

Fran Hilton-Smith: I was with Doctor Khumalo the other day and he said it clearly. It's 2022 and we are still talking about and having functions for the class of 1996 who won South Africa's only Afcon title. For a country with the resources we have, we should be qualifying for Afcon and World Cups. If we look at the visions that have been put forward over years, we shouldn't just be looking to qualify but should be in the top 10 in Africa. I think the women are on the right path. We have qualified for

the World Cup before and two Olympics. We have qualified for Afcon and are on course to qualify for the next World Cup. Thanks to a lot of development that myself and other coaches have done over the years, women's football is on the right track, but Bafana have got to start qualifying for big events to get up there. 26 years is a long time without really getting to the level we need to be at. I have learned that if you don't compete, you can't compete. I believe we have the best players in the world when it comes to men and women talent-wise, but we have to work on the tactical aspect.

Sport24 asked: Should Pitso Mosimane be the next Bafana coach?

Fran Hilton-Smith: Pitso has really proved himself in recent times and underlines that we have local talent. With him coaching in Egypt, I think Europe is only a step away. He has achieved incredible things where is and is a step away from being signed by a top club in Europe or a federation. I'm sure it's something that inevitable. I worked with him when the likes of myself, Steve Komphela and Neil Tovey all did our CAF professional and A-licences together.

Pitso has proved that he has the talent and the track record. He played in Europe, which is a completely different ball game. That high level of competition is crucial for the development of players. Having played at a top level in Europe, he has learned that which you cannot by simply reading a book or manual - you have to go and feel it.

According to Thomas Kwenaite, A Song for Banyana is "an honest portrayal of an important chapter in the history of South African football." The 240-page paperback, which was penned by Alan Whelan, is currently on sale through Amazon.com and Takealot.


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