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Herz makes history in selection for Banyana Banyana

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“Do you have a passport?” Lauren Duncan, the JVW football team manager, asked 25-year-old defender Erin Herz at a training session held by the Johannesburg women’s soccer club on 29 August.

“Yes, what do I need it for?” responded Herz.

“Don’t worry, you’ll find out,” Duncan said.

Feeling anxious by this request, Herz said, “It’s something you must tell me now.”

“Just stretch and I will tell you afterwards,” was the reply.

Once Herz had stretched, Duncan finished her address ahead of JVW’s next match by saying, “I want to wish good luck to Cimone [Sauls] and Erin. They will be representing Banyana Banyana at the COSAFA [Council of Southern Africa Football Associations] Cup.”

Herz was shocked and excited. She’s likely to be the first South African Jewish woman to play for Banyana Banyana, something she hadn’t expected to happen for a long time.

Three days later, she was on a plane with the Banyana team heading to their camp in Gqeberha, where the COSAFA Women’s Championship is taking place from 31 August to 11 September.

Banyana is the most successful team in this tournament, for teams from southern Africa, having won the trophy seven times since 2002.

Herz’s selection for the national team came about because the coach, who was the main selector, knew of her talent. “Her assistant coach used to be my coach at Wits [University of the Witwatersrand], so I knew her,” says Herz.

Herz made her national team debut in Banyana’s opening 2022 COSAFA group-stage match, a 3-0 win against Angola on 31 August. “It was incredible, almost unexplainable,” she says.

It’s her dream to play for the national team. “I just want to keep going with this energy and keep representing my country,” she says.

She went on to play in the team’s third and final group-stage match, a 1-1 draw against Mozambique, on 6 September. “It was an interesting match, a game of two halves, very windy going in one direction,” she says. “We played against the wind in the first half, so it worked in their favour. We did our best, but every time you kicked the ball, it didn’t go where you thought it would. We took control in the second half when the wind was in our favour.”

The draw was good enough for Banyana to get through to the semi-finals, in which they will play Namibia on 9 September, with the final taking place two days later.

Herz’s “feistiness and passion on the field” may come in handy. “I love football. I get stuck in no matter what, no questions asked. If I leave someone lying on the floor after I get the ball, so be it,” she says.

She plays for JVW in the Hollywoodbets Super League, the top tier of women’s soccer in South Africa, and for Wits in the Varsity Cup. She’s also working towards her honours in education at Wits and tutors in her spare time.

Herz also coaches the King David High School Linksfield girls first team. “I have been coaching different sports for about five years on and off in the primary school and high school, but this is my first year coaching the first team. We haven’t done as well as we could have. It’s been hard to get the players together with the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Grade 8s, 9s, and 10s are exciting. They are going to be great in the next few years. This potential is important.”

An alumnus of Reddam House Bedfordview, Herz first expressed an interest in playing soccer when, as a youngster, she saw a girl playing soccer with boys at Old Eds.

“My mom was at the gym, and there was a young soccer academy or something training there. All the young boys were about my age and there was one girl. I said to my mom, ‘I want to be like her.’ My mom phoned around and found a team for me to play for. It was called Girls Sport, an all-girls team. I started there when I was eight.”

Herz likes the full body and mental intensity of soccer. “It requires focus and intent,” she says. “I also like the team aspect, the group of people who are always around. They back me and I back them. We look out for each other, laugh together, and cry together.”

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