As part of Black History Month, we are spotlighting individuals working in grassroots football across London. We recently spoke to AFC Lewisham founder and Club Secretary Josephine Mayendesa, who shared her story about becoming involved in football, from her roots in Zimbabwe to supporting young people in Southeast London, and how age is just a number when you want to achieve your goals.
"I am founder and Club Secretary of Athletic Football Club Lewisham (AFC Lewisham), which was founded in March 2012. My passion for the game started in July 1990, after watching the England v Cameroon World Cup game. Since then, I became interested in football and became a Gunner, eventually leading me into the grassroots game.
"After working in the family business back home in Zimbabwe before moving to the UK 34-years ago, it gave me the self-confidence, a greater sense of purpose and made me understand how to work towards a common goal.
"As founder of AFC Lewisham, I am beyond proud of our achievements. When we started back in 2012, we had only one team which in the first year, lost 40 games and won one. I was so worried the boys wouldn’t come back the following season, but to my surprise they all did! That second year, we reached the semi-final of the London Cup, came second in the league, and were promoted to the A league. Now, we have 21 teams across the age groups.
"During the years, we have been able to have many experiences as part of AFC Lewisham. One of which was attending a tournament in Spain. The boys raised the money to go by packing bags at a local Tesco. The team opened the tournament representing England in front of 4,000 people. I still can’t quite believe we did that!
"In June 2022, Phil and I received the Kent County League Personality of the Year award for ‘our drive and commitment to young people in the Southeast London community and our ambition to succeed despite every challenge and hurdle presented.’
"The experience of being part of a club like AFC Lewisham has taught me to develop resilience when things do not go to plan. To reach where I am today, I have had obstacles thrown in my way, whether because of my gender, ethnicity, or age, but I refuse to be stopped by baseless criticism.
"I think it is important that London FA celebrates Black History, exploring the roots of football through Black English football pioneers such as Arthur Wharton and Viv Anderson, allowing us to learn and honour them, as well as the new history makers such as Rashford, Sterling and Saka.
"For me, self-belief is key in achieving your goals. You’ll come across those who will discourage you but remain focused. When you start something, see it through. I recently completed a referee course, and most attendees were 15/16-year-olds, but that didn’t deter me from completing my qualification. When it came to the practical side of the course, I gave my best and really enjoyed the course.
"I love the beautiful game. This season we have our first girls’ team playing in the Kent Girls’ and Ladies League. They have won all their games since the start of the season, and I am so proud of them. I can’t wait to play an active role in refereeing both girls’ and boys’ games.
"Just remember, age is just a number! Just look at Roger Milla, Cameroon legend who holds the record as the oldest footballer to score a goal at the men’s World Cup vs Russia in 1994 at 42 years old. If you can believe, you can achieve – stay positive!"