In the seventh interview of our #WomenofUP series this August we speak to trailblazer Khathochelo Mbanda who is Team and Operations Manager of the University of Pretoria (UP) Football Club.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What qualifications do you have?
I’m a Pretorian from Winterveltd, which is a rural area in the North of Pretoria. I grew up as a tomboy (I’m not sure if I’ve outgrown that phase though). My parents were business people who taught us that you need to work hard in life. From a young age my siblings and I worked during schools holidays and weekends. I completed high school at Crawford College Pretoria. I did a Bachelor’s Degree in Dramatic Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand. While I was a student there I played football for Wits University's ladies team and was captain.
How did you end up managing UP's soccer team?
My career in football started in 2009 at Bidvest Wits, while I was finishing my degree. I worked for the club as a marketing/media and match day coordinator. I joined AmaTuks when the team gained promotion to the Premier League in 2012 as a media and PR officer, and I was labelled a traitor for a while because I left Wits for Tuks. In 2014 I left UP as I was feeling claustrophobic. I needed a break away from club football and to gain some knowledge and experience in corporate. I joined a marketing and PR company as account manager in charge of the Sasol sponsorship of the South African women's team (Banyana Banyana) and the women's league; the Castle sponsorship of Bafana (SA men’s soccer team) super fans; and other sporting sponsorship properties within the company. An opportunity came in 2015 to come back to Tuks to be team and operations manager for AmaTuks. They were still campaigning in the Premier League at that time and the move happened. Unfortunately, the team was relegated to the National First Division in June 2016 and remains there.
How do the players and the soccer fraternity respond to you? Do the players mind taking instructions from a woman?
Well, it was not easy when I started working in football as they look at you and see a woman and nothing more; so I knew that I had to triple my efforts in everything I did. It is still the same now, I let my work ethic speak for itself. I have had to read a lot to keep abreast of developments in the football world and strive to always do things better. I come from a background where my late mother taught me to see myself as an individual who is capable, who just happens to be a woman. I do not let my gender restrict me in my job. The players do take instructions from me. I have had to find ways to interact with them, but there will always be that one difficult player every now and then.
AmaTuks team manager Khathochelo Mbanda took up the position in 2015
Do you find they doubt your expertise and experience?
I think I am fortunate to be working for an academic institution club, where principles of respect, hard work and winning are important; therefore each person knows their role and why they are here – from the players, coaches and all other support staff. When I started, yes, maybe they did, but with the years I have had to prove myself capable. It is easy within the University of Pretoria community, but rather difficult within the broader football community. I have come to accept that I need to always “know my story”, argue with facts, not with the saying “that is just how it is in football”.
Describe a typical day for you on the job.
Eish, this might take the whole day. I rarely have typical days in my job, things tend to go south very quickly, every day. But on a serious note, I have colourful days with no set office hours. Some days I can be in the office from 07:00 and leave at 20:00. A typical day though would comprise of starting at the fields if the team is training in the morning, say about 08:30 or 09:00 to check if all is in order, moving to the office after the session at around 12:00 (that is if there were no meetings that I had to attend in that period). At the office I catch up on all administration work, putting together the club budget for the season for the Board to approve, managing it throughout the season, communicating with the National Soccer League and the South African Football Association, handling player and staff contracts (including negotiations), match event planning, team bookings – all travel, accommodation, flights – league registrations, attend technical and Board meetings.
I basically need to make sure that everything is in order at the club, I always joke and say, “I’m the plumber”. Oh, and I travel with them wherever they play or go!
What happens on match day?
Match days are easy days, operationally, as a lot of things need to have been done in advance. The only stress is not knowing whether the team will win on not. There is a running order and countdown per the league rules that we need to follow. My role is to make sure that all event planning for the match has been done and the match can happen; team needs have been taken care of (pre-match meal, kit colours, team sheets, dress code); and then I pray that they play well and we win. I watch the match from the stands.
What are some of your challenges and how do you overcome them?
Being undermined because of my gender, especially when having to handle player contract negotiations with agents. I have been threatened many times if they do not get their way, but have accepted that their undermining will not stop. I just need to do my job to the best of my ability, the best way I know how. The other challenge is that I am that sister/aunt/friend/spouse who is never there for any family events because I am at a football stadium. But I am blessed to have a family that is understanding and supports my passion. They just inform me of what is going on in my family (weddings, funerals, parties, etc).
Mbanda with the team
Do you go into the change room and how do you and the players feel about that?
I do go into the change room, but I have learnt to respect them and not make them feel awkward. I go into the change room when I have to be there: when I have to check [players’ registration] cards with the match commissioner on match days and at the end of the game when we pray before leaving. It was awkward for the opposition team at the beginning, but now they know that the Tuks manager is a woman and there is nothing they can do. I have many stories to tell about certain teams not allowing me to even go onto the field or be in the tunnel area.
What do you love about your job, how are you making a difference and how are you living THE UP WAY?
I love what I do. I fell in love with football when I was still young. I have tried running away from it, but it always finds me. I love the challenge, nothing is predictable with my job. I always try and assist colleagues from other clubs with administration challenges, because I believe we can be enemies on the field because we are fighting for points, but we can make football a better place if we do the right things administratively, and how we can achieve that is by educating each other.
I am living the UP way by always trying my best to elevate to greatness. I strive to be better than I was yesterday.
What is your advice to women who want to enter professions that are largely male-dominated?
It is possible, but you first have to know why you want to be there or are there. How you carry yourself within that industry will determine your success. It is not easy at all, but believing in yourself, that you are capable, goes a long way. Grow a thick skin, be like a crocodile, hard and rough on the outside, but soft and fragile on the inside.
Look out for more profiles of amazing #WomenofUP and read about those we have already featured as we celebrate Women's Month: