Junior is all grown up

Former Milano United midfielder Brandon Junior Theron makes a run during the match against FC Cape Town earlier this year.

With less than a week to go before the 2016/17 PSL season kicks off, Junior said he can’t wait to get his soccer boots dirty in South Africa’s top flight soccer scene.

A former Milano United National First Division (NFD) player, Junior first got mud on his boots while playing for Origan Spurs, at the age of eight.

Last month, the versatile midfielder was snatched up by Johannesburg-based side Highlands Park, following his stellar season with the Kinnes.

Junior scored six goals for Milano last season, and said his solo run against Cape Town All Stars is one that he’ll never forget.

Not only will he make his debut in the PSL, but so will the newly promoted Highlands Park.

Highlands finished second on the NFD log last season, one point behind league winners Baroka FC – who earned straight promotion to the PSL.

But, they soon joined Baroka in the top tier after winning promotion through the promotion/relegation playoffs.

“I was so excited when I got the call from Highlands – it was all goosebumps for me. Playing in the PSL is a dream come true. It’s every soccer players goal to play in the highest league,” said Junior.

“When I received the call I was already doing pre-season training with Cape Town City, but Highlands was first to sign me and I joined them on a two-year deal. The management said they like the type of player that I am and that my style suits their brand of football.

“I started training with the team last month and it’s been a massive learning curve. Training has been really intense – there’s a lot of focus put on being a more physical player and I also have to adapt to my new coach’s philosophy,” he said.

Junior said being away from his family and friends will be difficult, but the chance he got was a once in a lifetime opportunity and he made sure to seize it. However, he is not the only Capetonian in the squad and the former Ajax Cape Town star player, Franklin Cale has been his mentor.

“This is a sacrifice I need to make for my family. I’ll be away from my son Thiago, who turned one a couple days after I signed.

“A father and son share a special bond so it will be tough for me, but I’ll make arrangements to see him often.

“I’m the second eldest of six children in our family and I’m close with my younger brother, Branwin, 16, who’s also a midfielder and plays for Aerial Spurs.

“We have a good relationship but he always insists that I don’t come to his matches, so we’d usually chat about his game at home,” said Junior.

“Rudi Isaacs and Marlon Heugh are the other Cape players at Highlands. Cale has been like a father figure to me and has been guiding me with the lifestyle of being a professional soccer player.

“He’s been teaching me about how to handle the pressure, the media and off the field he’s advised me on how to manage my finances,” he said.

A former Steenberg Primary and Sibelius High School pupil, Junior grew up playing as a striker where he picked up many top goal scorer awards. But, he was later moved into the midfield where his speed, silky skills and superb first touch were put to better use.

“At the age of 17, I moved to Salt River Blackpool where I played for them in the under-19 Premier Cup and in the Third Division. At the end of that season I joined Stars of Africa in Johannesburg for a year before signing for Milano United in the First Division,” said Junior.

“I’ve been with Milano for the last four seasons and this is where my game took a step up. I remember my debut game like it was yesterday because I scored a goal in the opening 24 seconds of the game.

“We played against Dynamos. As soon as the game started we pressed them high. Devon Saal got the ball on the wing and immediately crossed it into the box. Lesvin Stoffels made the dummy run at the near post and the ball came through to the back post where I waited and tapped in.

“I enjoyed my time at Milano and was fortunate to have played with a bunch of talented players. We always did well in the league but some how we slipped up at the times where it mattered the most,” he said.

Known for his goal poaching, Junior also picked up the top goal scorer award at the under-19 Premier Cup with Stars of Africa, in 2012. His seven goals at the tournament saw them through to the semi-final, where they lost 1-0 to eventual winners Chippa United.

With the season drawing closer, Junior looks to earn his spot in the starting-11 and help the club maintain their status in the PSL.

“I’d like to get as much game time to secure my place in the starting line-up. And, I’ve also set myself a target of scoring eight goals this season.

“I would also like to contribute to the club’s success and help them win some silverware.

“This will be an exciting season and I can’t pin-point any games that I’d like to play in, but I know the matches against my old teammates will be very interesting.

“These are the games you don’t want to lose because after the match you want to walk away with the bragging rights,” he said.

Highlands Park kickstart their campaign against Baroka FC on Tuesday September 13; while the opening PSL games start next Tuesday August 23.