DETERMINED: Phuti plays for JDR Stars

South Africa’s first openly gay soccer player says he’s ready to take on the big boys in the Premier Soccer League (PSL).

Phuti “Minaj” Lekoloane, 24, from Midrand in Johannesburg is currently a goalkeeper for JDR Stars who won the Gauteng leg of the ABC Motsepe League.

But it’s the team’s queer shot stopper that is hitting the headlines.

Phuti says he’s always had a thing for balls: “I played netball since I was 13 or 14 years old. I even wore a skirt because there wasn’t a uniform for me and I was the only guy on the team.”

But he dropped his netball skirtjie when the guys at Petersen FC needed a goalie for a game at short notice.

Phuti says: “Then the coach said I should come for training and from then I was part of the team.”

The gay goalie says he makes no excuses for his sexuality.

“I was gay my whole life, probably since Grade 3. I didn’t have to come out of the closet because I was never in the closet,” he says.

PROUD: Phuti ‘Minaj’ Lekoloane, 24

Phuti has played for Highlands Park FC and was part of the Platinum Stars development team before soccer bosses moved the team to Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

Now he wants PSL scouts to notice him and give him a shot at the big leagues.

“I am a Kaizer Chiefs supporter, but I think I’d want to play for Bidvest Wits because they are well structured and they know how to build a player,” he says.

Phuti laughs when questioned about his nickname, which is a clear reference to Nicki Minaj.

“One day at a training session, my hero Shoes Moshoeu saw me watching a Nicki Minaj video and he started calling me Minaj, and it just stayed with me,” he says.

The number on his goalkeeper jersey also has special significance. Shoes is fondly remembered for wearing the number 10 jersey, Phuti says 9 plus 1 equals 10.

“I spoke to his sister and his mother, because I know the family and I asked if I could use ‘91’ and they gave me their blessing.”

Phuti is single right now but says he is not looking for love on the playing field.

“I will never date a soccer player. Not until I retire.”

He adds: “I have no problems in the change room because before anything else we all are sportsmen. [My teammates] have accepted me because I am not hiding anything from them, and they get naked next to me; I don’t touch them and they don’t touch me.”