Luke Alfred

Age 16 +
01 May 2023


‘Desiree Ellis has walked a remarkable journey. The result is that young South African girls now know they can create their own future.’ – VERA PAUW, former coach of Banyana Banyana

Desiree Ellis has been associated with Banyana Banyana, the South African women’s national football team, for 30 years – initially making her mark as a player (1993–2002), before transitioning to coaching. Taking the experience of 32 caps, including captaining the team when South Africa won the inaugural Cosafa Women’s Cup in 2002, she went on to become the most successful women’s coach in South Africa.

After a stint as assistant coach to Vera Pauw, Desiree was officially appointed head coach in 2018 and continued adding to her outstanding resumé. A high point came in 2022 when she coached Banyana Banyana to the Wafcon title in Morocco. The win also earned the team automatic qualification for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

But Desiree’s inspiring football journey began many years before on the streets of Salt River in Cape Town where she developed the strength and skills that earned her the nickname ‘Magic’ on the field. Back then soccer boots were only dreamed of and it was her Bata Toughees school shoes that suffered the wear and tear, often to the despair of her hardworking parents. In the early days of the Athlone Celtic women’s side, it was a family affair: (Uncle) Eddie took on the role of coach, (Mom) Natalie’s seamstress skills saw them all kitted out, and (Dad) Ernest handled everything else, from transport to scheduling games.

When Desiree’s talent and dedication saw her become a serious contender at league and then provincial level, and finally gave her a chance to play with and against the world’s best, there was no stopping her. As South Africa emerged from sporting exile after the dark days of apartheid and stepped up to the international stage, Desiree proved to everyone who believed in her that dreams can come true.