Janine van Wyk ready to realise her dream with Glasgow City

South Africa star eyes Champions League bow after eye-catching move to Scotland
South Africa record cap holder Janine van Wyk in action against China during last year's Women's World Cup in France. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty ImagesSouth Africa record cap holder Janine van Wyk in action against China during last year's Women's World Cup in France. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
South Africa record cap holder Janine van Wyk in action against China during last year's Women's World Cup in France. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

There are complexities to making a move overseas in anybody’s life, so moving from South Africa to Scotland in the middle of a global pandemic is harder still. But with a bucket list item to cross off, it’s an opportunity that Glasgow City’s new signing Janine van Wyk couldn’t pass up.

Growing up on the streets of Alberton, where she had no choice but to kick around with the boys, World Cups and Champions League games always seemed a long way away for a young Van Wyk. Now though, in the space of a couple of years, they’re becoming a reality.

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So was she always hopeful? Did teenage Janine think that in 2020 she’d be sitting on the verge of a Women’s Champions League quarter-final?

“Not a chance!” is her reply to The Scotsman before jetting out of Jo’burg.

“When I was with the boys I just played for the fun, for the love of the game. I really didn’t think any further. I didn’t think at that age that women’s football would become as big as it is today. When you grow older and you see women’s football on TV, the World Cup being shown to you by the national coaches, only then do you realise that there’s something out there to reach for.

“For me, it was only really when I reached the national level that I started to dream of playing abroad for a professional club, and playing at the World Cup. Back then though, it was all about being the best me I could be, and standing out against the boys.”

That all changed over the last few years, though. In 2016, the centre-back became the most capped international player in South African history – male or female – as she hit 125 appearances for Banyana Banyana. In 2017 she made her first step abroad, playing in arguably the best women’s league in the world as she joined Houston Dash.

The following year Van Wyk became the first South African to captain Banyana at a Women’s World Cup, and now – shortly after her 33rd birthday – her dream of playing in the Champions League is potentially under a month away.

“I wouldn’t be going over there if it wasn’t guaranteed that I’d be playing in the Champions League!” she jokes. “But yeah, I think there is a chance of playing. The coach spoke to me about a couple of friendlies before then to get me ready, because I haven’t played in so long. I think from the day I arrive they’ll be working with me to get me ready for those games.”

It’s not been easy for female South African footballers to get their break. The women’s game in Africa is still in its infancy as far as professional football is concerned, but France 2019 opened up a door that has seen many take the next step, and Van Wyk thinks they have a responsibility to all the young girls out there who dream of following in their footsteps.

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Along with Van Wyk in Scotland, South Africa also have Refiloe Jane at AC Milan, Thembi Kgatlana with SD Eibar, Linda Motlhalo in Sweden with Djurgårdens IF and Jermaine Seoposenwe at Braga. All of these moves have come about since Banyana’s debut World Cup appearance.

“I think it’s important for us to showcase how far we have come,” she explains. “But also set a great example to the young ones that look up to us. When we were young we didn’t have female role models. My role model was David Beckham and a couple of other Manchester United players.

“Now, when you play the game, women’s football is so much more popular. You want young girls to look to their national team, to look to the ones who stand out like your Thembis and Lindas and Jermaines. It’s important for us, as players, to know that we are now role models to youngsters.

“We have to set an example on the field, in the media, because those girls will imitate what we do. If we continue to do well, if we continue to get ourselves contracts overseas, then that’s something they will aspire to do as well.”

There was the small matter of getting to Scotland, but after sorting out all the admin, Van Wyk has now touched down and will undergo her medicals over the next couple of days before getting started with Scott Booth and her new team-mates.

And Booth has his expectations of the defender, who owns her own football club – JVW FC – and has been playing her part in creating Banyana players of the future, after what City described as ‘one of the biggest ever signings in Scottish women’s football’.

She said: “Coach Scott reached out to me as soon as I signed, and he spoke of how much he respects me and the journey I’ve taken in my career. He expects me to be the leader that I’ve been for my national team and for me to guide players around me with my experience and knowledge of the game. Oh, and obviously keeping as many clean sheets as I can with my team-mates! He says I’ll fit in well with the other talented group of players that he’s working with.”

Injury robbed her of a Champions League debut with Swedish club Fortuna Hjørring earlier this year but in Glasgow that dream could become a reality. So would that be the last tick on her bucket list? “It’s not the last,” she says. “But it’s definitely something I really wanted to achieve. The last one probably is getting that Africa Women’s Cup of Nations gold medal around my neck.”

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