She got her first boots from coaches Ennie Konje and Shingai Kutama at age 13 when she joined Field Rulers. Seven years on, she has played for the Under-20 national team and is a student athlete at Brewton Parker College in Georgia, America.
Not many girls dream about pursuing a football career in a culturally reserved patriarchy like ours, more so at age 13. Former Field Rulers and Maningi Queens midfielder Vanessa Ellen Mateko broke the glass ceiling when she secured a student athlete scholarship to the United States of America, not because she is the first women footballer to do it, but because entry level challenges into the women’s game prevail, years after the game was first played here.
On what needs to be done to encourage more girls to play, Vanessa said, “People in Zimbabwe should consider the girl child too, the same way they do to the boy child.
“ZIFA too, should release more money to Zimbabwean girls so that they can be motivated to play.
Soon after helping Zimbabwe to a fourth-place finish at the inaugural U20 regional women’s championship organised by the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) in August 2019, Vanessa was admitted into Kimball Union Academy in Hampshire. In May 2020 she signed for Georgia-based Brewton Parker College’s soccer team, touted by coach Prince Borde as an experienced national team player with great work ethic, enthusiasm and intelligence.
Vanessa arrived at Brewton Park just 2 months after the Lady Barons had signed Sarah De Gannes, a product of the FC Barcelona school in Canada and a member of the Trinidad & Tobago Under-20 team.
Asked why she had chosen Brewton Parker, Vanessa told the Brewton Parker College website that, "God ordered my steps and guided me to this beautiful country, and from high school he created a path to BPC".
It’s hard to dispute her sentiments, for, she has been helped by some of the greatest names in both men’s and women’s football locally. Currently, she says former Warriors coach Charles Mhlauri’s family is taking good care of her, while locally she worked with the likes of Rosemary Mugadza, Langton Giwa, Ennie Konje, Mthandazo Moyo, Shingirai Mungwini and Shingai Kutama.
“So many good people have helped shape my path to this stage.
“I was helped by Charles Mhlauri to get this scholarship, but financially Miguel Lemming and the Maningi Queens director helped me to get through this.
“I was just an A’ level student with good O’ level results and a girl who was fond of the game”, she said.
Striking the balance between studying and sport poses challenges to many footballers across the sex divide, and it prompts many parents to urge their children towards studies at the expense of their sporting talents. The situation is even worse for girls aspiring to play football/soccer, a predominantly male sport.
“Parents should let their girls play not only saying it’s male dominated,” Vanessa said.
Vanessa celebrated her 20th birthday on 28 June, thousands of kilometres away from her supportive parents and three siblings. She says she is used to being away from them because of the travelling demands of football.
“It’s not that hard anymore because I haven’t been able to stay home a lot since the age of 18 because of Zimbabwean U-20 camps and games.
“I’m used to this life now”, she said.
Prospects are high that she will succeed both as a student and an athlete at a Christian coeducational college like Brewton Parker college, and she is eager to play for the senior team one day soon.
Her coach at Under-20, Rosemary Mugadza, is excited about Vanessa’s progress report from Charles Mhlauri, and what that means for the local game.
“She was already a good player and with the new trends she is learning she has improved.
“It’s a plus for women’s football to have our players playing abroad, and it’s exciting that Beata Chako is also leaving soon to join Vanessa at the same college”, Mugadza said.
This is the nursery for another Olympic team in a few years to come.
*Brewton Parker College is one of the 250 institutions which are members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Schools (NAIA). NAIA schools, in comparison to others above (D1, D2 & D3), offer relative flexibility to students and a balance between academics and sport.