Promising footballer Nelafah Mohammadi has her heart set on earning national colours.
The 14-year-old, from Brooklyn, says her parents, Shahram and Carmenita Mohammadi, almost named her after the French World Cup winning captain, Zinedine Zidane, whose nickname is Zizou.
Nelafah’s family’s love for football rubbed off on her while she was still in the womb. She says she had to kick at certain times before the “full-time whistle was blown at nine months.”
“My mother prophesied over my life and said that I would achieve great things. My mom was expecting me to be a boy nine years after my sister. The name “Zinedine Zidane Mohammadi” was set for me. But I’m a girl. My mom named me Nelafah, which is a lily flower in Persian as my dad is from Iran and is fluent in Persian and Arabic,” she says.
Her mother is a sports enthusiast who grew up in Woodlands. She says although there have been some ups and downs in Nelafah’s journey, mostly it has been rewarding.
During the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup in South Africa, Nelafah was a toddler celebrating Siphiwe Tshabalala’s iconic opening goal for Africa. Her cousins were kicking the ball around in the yard and she joined them. Just by her first touch, Nelafah’s cousins said, she showed “she is a pure born talent”.
“I was actually born with a clubfoot. It’s when the foot is twisted out of shape. The doctors said that my mom just had to massage my foot and it would eventually get better,” she says.
From a young age her mother instilled the importance of balancing football and her academics.
From the start of Grade 1 in 2014 at Woodbridge Primary School till Grade 7, Nelafah finished in the top three in all her grades, coming first in Afrikaans. She twice earned the school Dux award, which is given to pupils who excel in both academics and sport.
“In 2016 I trialed for the Ajax Cape Town First Touch programme and I attended the trials in a beanie. Just after I was selected, my mom informed the coaches that I am a girl and not a boy. Everybody kept on calling me “boytjie “ because my hair couldn’t be seen under the beanie. The head coach of Ajax, Mr Sergio dos Santos called me up and told me to remove my beanie and all the boys were so shocked because I was the same girl putting the ball through their legs and they couldn’t believe it.
“I was selected at the trial and proceeded to the First Touch touch programme. The scouts told me that I would’ve been selected, but Ajax did not allow females into their team. Those words didn’t stop me from working hard,” she says.
Nelafah went on to play for the schools team and FN Rangers under-12 boys team where she was once applauded by Banyana Banyana coach, Desiree Ellis for her efforts on the field.
“I’ve played for many teams, but playing with FN rangers in 2018 with the boys in the under-12 division is where my soccer career really flourished. Big ups to Arreshaat Daniels for always giving me opportunities because in the same year I pulled off being the main role in the 2018 World Cup Kia Motors advert, which was broadcast in Singapore,” she says.
Nelafah is also a part of the Besa Soccer Academy, where she trains with Brazilian coach Ronaldo Kota, every weekend.
In 2016 Nelafah joined Hellenic Football Club’s under-14 girls, where she was awarded a scholarship to attend Curro Century.
The Grade 8 pupil says her goal is to play professional football, to give her mother the first paycheck and to buy her property and a taxi for her scholar transport business.
Following the passing of the owner of Hellenic, Mark Byrne last week after a long battle with cancer, Nelafah says he provided her with many opportunities, including the scholarship. She will forever be appreciative of what he did. “I want to make Mr B super proud,” she says.
On National Women’s Day, Nelafah was invited as a speaker by Safa Cape Town, for an event where she shared her journey, at the Zolani Centre, in Nyanga.
“It was an honour to speak at the Women’s Day event. I enjoy speaking as I want to inspire other girls and even other footballers as well because if I can do it, others can do it too,” she says.
Nelafah represented the girls provincial under-13 team and is a part of the under-15 team.
“I would like to end off by saying that if God is all you have, then you have all you need. Always put God first and it will work in your favour. Happy Women’s Month. A successful woman is one who can build a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at her. Thank you.”