GABORONE, Botswana, August 2020/ — Seeing to it that it was National Women’s Day in South Africa, a public holiday celebrated annually on August 9th in honour of women, allow us to publish this profile about this bespoke woman in South African football. Born and gifted with amazing skills, Fran Hilton-Smith in her heydays was a musician and a footballer of note.
Interestingly, all the national team coaches, Desiree Ellis [Banyana], Simphiwe Dludlu [Under-17], Jabulile Baloyi and Maud Khumalo [both Under-20] are her visionary story – a litmus that truly guide how influential she became over time.
In a candid interview with #BotswanaUplugged the founder of Pretoria High Performance Centre (PHPC) recalls memoirs of her music career that include one international performance in United Kingdom’s London and at Madiba’s house respectively.
“Aside from football I am a musician. I had to choose between the two as at one point they clashed. I was playing in an all girl jazz band with other four ladies from SOWETO called Basadi Women of Jazz. We played African jazz. Old famous standards jazzed up and I played bass and drums. The band played twice for Madiba, once at State president house in and we represented Africa at a world jazz festival in London respectively. From there I had to quit full time music to focus on football which I have had over 40 years experience,” she recalls.
Quite a decent left-footed player in her days who even caught the eye of the ABSA premiership side, Kaizer Chiefs’ boss Kaizer Motaung who at the time jokingly said should ‘she was a man, he would sign her outright without trials’, a mere fate at the time.
However, Hilton Smith has bigger plans beyond playing, she eagerly wanted to be a coach, at the time it was difficult to penetrate a male dominated field and South Africa was still fragile to women representation. Hilton-Smith has known only football having been to all the FIFA World Cups post 1991.
“I wanted to be a coach as there were no women coaches. When I decided to stop playing this was my dream. However, it was not easy, there was sabotage and jealousy for my progression. The ones in my way were more male football administrators and politicians than coaches I was not going to be put off. Once I got a foot in the door with FIFA FUTURO Course in 1993 and CAF High Level Coaching Course, I think in 1994, I was in to make a difference. Coaches accepted me as I was a good player. I did all my coaching levels up to CAF A and Pro with male coaches. Became a FIFA (2001) and CAF Instructor (2005),” she said.
Amongst the numerous coaches in her batch included former Bafana Bafana coaches, Ephraim Shakes Mashaba, Trott Moloto respectively and Computer Lamola in 1995.
She has her big break into the football coaching post 1995 however, football was not an investment a woman will put her money on unless she was as passionate as the 66-year-old Germiston, Gauteng born football administrator. Fast forward to today, football has evolved and has now became a big money spending entity with some pundits suggesting that it has lowered the skill and passion amongst coaches and players respectively.
“For me, money has always played a role in development. I worked for the passion of the game. 10 years out of the boot of my car unpaid and then 20 years employed by South African Football Association (SAFA). Many women don’t take up coaching as there is little chance of paid employment. Like in the Sasol league most clubs are owned by men and generally they appoint male coaches. It is a big struggle. Fortunately, we have a rule that all national coaches of women teams must be women so that has changed the status quo a lot and we have more women taking up coaching courses and posts. However, opportunities to do coaching courses also limited,” she lamented.
Credited as the pivot of SA women football, front liner, mastermind of how former players such as Portia Modise, Veronica Phewa, Mpumi Nyandeni and Antonio Carelse earned international careers, Hilton-Smith knew she needed to build a lasting legacy beyond playing and coaching thus conceptualizing what is now one of the best high performance centre in Africa.
Today, among the successes of PHPC include Linda Motlhalo, Thembi Kgatlana, Janine van Wyk and Regina Mogolola who are plying their trade overseas
“When I was the national coach in 2000 for Banyana Banyana I realized we needed a High Performance Centre to develop better players with regard to their nutrition, physical development, education, medical assistance and continuity in training. I then approached Tuks university and we were allocated a block there to house 25 girls full time. The first sponsor was Lotto for few years and then for 12 years odd by SAFA Legacy programme. This enabled our national teams to grow and succeed and many girls were scouted by overseas universities (especially in USA) and professional clubs in Europe. My travels in USA and Europe with FIFA attending women’s world cups and academies gave me a great insight into where we needed to be as a country. I tried to implement this in CAF as well in my coaching courses there for men and women”, she recalled why PHPC was initiated.
Now in her retirement and busy writing her memoir on her experience and wisdom her legacy remains solid. Her roadmap in turning the fortunes of SA women football saw the ladies team qualify for FIFA world cup and Olympics respectively and has predicted that the 2023 world cup squad will be title chasers.
“Well I am still very busy with Confederation of African Football and I conducted an Instructor of Instructors course recently in Egypt to develop women Instructors in all countries in Africa to conduct CAF Coaching courses. Also held the first ever Task Force meeting with delegates from all over Africa to develop a plan for women’s football in Africa. I am also on the CAF Technical Committee. Last month we held the first COSAFA Instructors course in Johannesburg for women coaches from all COSAFA regions to train them as Instructors”
A legend of the game, she continues to make strides in Africa as last year she attended the FIFA world cup and was at the FIFA Workshop where she is still in contact with national coaches sharing my newly gained insights.
For her, learning never stops. She has argued the football administrator and technical to use the corona virus break as time to study new trends.
“We as CAF Instructors have WhatsApp groups with women coaches in Africa and share info regularly. Always available to assist anyone”, she concluded. She has been bestowed with awards including the Steve Tshwete Lifetime Achievement Award at the SA Sport Awards in November 2017.