South Africa captain Janine van Wyk is one of her country’s all-time greats
She’s furthering football in her homeland through her own club and schools league
Van Wyk tells us about setting up JVW FC, her future and signing Caster Semenya
There are plenty of players with grand plans for impacting the game beyond running, heading and kicking. Almost without exception, however, these are expressed in future tense; filed under ‘Once I hang up my boots’.
Janine van Wyk is that rare exception. South Africa’s captain and most-capped footballer of all time, Van Wyk has managed to combine an elite playing career – much of which has been spent overseas – with founding, funding and managing a top-level club and flourishing youth structure.
And JVW FC is no ordinary club and academy. Despite having been formed just five years ago, it has already won the national championship and produced several players for South Africa’s junior and senior national teams. When the South African Football Association (SAFA) formed a new Women’s National League in 2019, JVW was the first club to earn entry.
“It dates back to 2012 really,” explained Van Wyk, “when I created a schools league (the JVW Girls Schools League, which is still thriving today). At that time, the only way for girls to play football was in boys’ teams. And while there are benefits to playing with boys – I did it myself – it’s important for girls to have an environment where they feel like they belong, rather than sticking out.
“As it went on, I started seeing a lot of girls in this league with real talent who couldn’t pursue the game any further because there were so few clubs out there. It was seeing this talent going to waste that made me start JVW FC in 2015. I bought a franchise in the Women’s League out of my own pocket with the little bit of money that I’d made from the game, with the idea of taking these talented youngsters and giving them a pathway into senior football.
“We started with 13 players at the time and now have over 100, so that tells you how it’s gone since then. It’s grown enormously and we’ve already had JVW girls playing in the senior national team, as well as the U-17s and U-20s. That’s very satisfying. From what we started a few years ago, I can honestly say that it’s now one of the best women’s football clubs in South Africa and one of the best development structures on the entire continent.”
The scale of these achievements would be hugely impressive regardless of who had inspired them. But given the demands of a professional playing career, and the dedication and focus needed to excel abroad and captain South Africa on the world stage, it begs the question: how has Van Wyk managed it?
“I’ve been hands on and directly involved since day one, and still am,” she told FIFA.com. “But I obviously need people back home to help me run the club, and I have a really passionate staff who do that. Even in that respect, we look to develop female talent; of all our staff, only one person – the goalkeeping coach – is male. But I’m still constantly in touch with them and very much involved in any big decisions that need made.”
One such decision revolved around a signing that made headlines across the world. It came last year, when Caster Semenya – Olympic champion, South African icon and globally renowned athlete – declared that she would be playing for JVW in their 2020 season. And once again, it leaves us asking: how did Van Wyk pull it off?
“Well, Caster and I have been good friends for a while,” she explained. “We first met at the Olympic Games and have always kept in touch. She’d been saying about really wanting to play football and at first I thought she was just screwing around. But she told me that she played the game when she was younger, loved it, and it was only when people saw how fast she was that she switched to athletics.
“It was Caster who kicked it all off actually because she called me to say that she wanted to find a club and asked if we were interested in giving her a go. That was a no-brainer for me because we’re all about giving opportunities, and when you have someone with Caster’s awesome athletic ability it’s exciting to see what she can do.
“We haven’t been able to play her in a game yet because of the pandemic but she’s had a couple of training sessions, done exceptionally well, and is desperate to take the field for us. She's keen to play central midfield or centre-half because she feels no-one will be able to run past her! The COVID shutdown has got in the way so far, but you’ll definitely see her on the field for JVW before long.”
As for Van Wyk herself, the past few years have brought a successful move to NWSL side Houston Dash, the joy of captaining South Africa at their first FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and, most recently, a UEFA Women’s Champions League debut with current club Glasgow City. And while this inspirational defender has plenty of football left in her 33-year-old legs, she is already looking forward to a future with the club that bears her initials.
“I try to get involved in all aspects of JVW but my passion is the technical side of things, and that’s something I’d like to pursue more,” she said. “I can’t ever see myself in a full-time office role – I’d miss the football pitch too much.
“I’ve done my coaching badges in South Africa, my CAF B Licence, and I’d like to do my UEFA Licence while I’m here in Scotland. That side of the game is definitely where I see my future, and I’d love to not only coach my club but also coach the national team at some stage.”
One thing is clear. Having helped so many girls and young women pursue their dreams, Van Wyk deserves every good fortune in chasing hers.