Vol.23 No.147

Friday 29 September 2006    
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The 1990s football: Loving and loathing Writer and football enthusiast

9/29/2006 5:36:56 PM (GMT +2)

MODIRWA KEKWALETSWE remembers the most dramatic era in the local football scene; the 1990s. Former national coach David Bright says without hesitation that the 1990s were years of great strides in Botswana soccer. "There was growth.

Botswana teams began to hold their own against teams from other countries," said Bright who guided Mogoditshane Fighters to the apex of local football before joining Flamingo Santos. For Bright, it was an era he paid his dues and when the decade faded, he was perched at the pinnacle of Botswana football. Bright took over Fighters on February 5 1992. It was a low profile entry, but his departure in 2005 after coaching the team for 13 years made headlines. Looking back, Bright says he was able to assemble a great side because of two major factors: the club, with the financial backing of Botswana Defence Force (BDF), was semi- professional. It trained twice a day. The second reason is independence. "I was able to grow the team without any interference from management and supporters," he says. The last reason is most telling. In 2002-2003, BDF XI won the league under Stanley Tshosane. Bright wrote a letter to the newspapers, congratulating the team. The letter ended with a sting that "great sides are not made by supporters, but by a good coach and management". At the time, the letter did not evoke any debate, but the schools of thought were divergent. Supporters, Bright has realised, can either make or break a team if allowed to exert excessive influence on the players and the coach. Fighters, with a low support base have little or no pressure. And herein lies the cancer of Botswana football. The divide between the teams that receive government subsidies to survive, and those that have to struggle on their own. The rivalry never goes away, it just bubbles beneath the surface, waiting to burst open. The rivalry went to the brink in 2002-2003 when a group of community teams threatened to break away from the Botswana Football Association (BFA) to form Botswana Soccer Association (BOSA). After being convinced to stay, the BOSA firebrands took over the BFA. Once again, the rivalry between government-backed teams, and the community ones has burst into the open, over the issue of gate takings. Community teams want every club to sell its tickets and pocket the money. Realising that this would disadvantage them, government-backed sides insist on the home team pocketing all the gate takings. Even amongst community teams, back-stabbing and bitter acrimony are a common phenomena. The supporters - the bedrock of a community club, the only un-transferable assets - bring pressure to bear on all: coaches, players, management, associations and even governments. At Extension Gunners, Gaborone United, TAFIC, Mochudi Centre Chiefs, Notwane, and Township Rollers, fans have been blamed for instability. And when it comes to loving and loathing, no team evokes so much emotion as Rollers. It is a team that outrightly rejects the notion of indifference and neutral posturing. Like George W. Bush's clarion call - you are either with Popa or not. Those who hate it invest as much emotion as those who support it. There is no middle ground. The last decade of the 21st century began with domination by city rivals - Gaborone United (GU). The Reds won the league under Arthur James in 1990. Perhaps the era was best illustrated by a late encounter, which began with a shocking clash of heads by Rollers defender Showa Morapedi and GU's forward Patrick Zibochwa. The duo returned with bandages on their heads, but before long, Zibochwa threw his away. GU won 4-0 on the night. In that team was the Zimbabwe dribbler, Mandla Balanda who danced circles around Moshoeshoe Molelekwa, with City Senne and Listen Keaolotswe at the back. For GU, that was to be their last title. Relegation came, followed by five seasons in the wilderness. The godfathers of the teams were turning in their graves. For one season, they were joined by their archrivals Rollers - in the dusty grounds. As the Reds faded, Rollers saw a blur of white and black before their eyes as Extension Gunners began a three-year reign that still has fans looking back with fondness. BDF XI won the league in 1991, under the guidance of Dick Chama. In terms of flair and poise, Gunners had it all. There was Kenneth Jere aka Computer, the rose of Peleng - Pro Moucho, striker Edison Mulubwa and Itumeleng Duiker. They won the league thrice in row, first with Kenny Mwape in 1992. He was replaced by Samuel "Zoom" Ndlovu, whose knowledge of the game is still legendary. There was growth at Gunners, their brand of football - sublime and all conquering - attracted supporters from all corners of the country. In short, Gunners transcended Lobatse and its neighboring metropolis - it was now a national phenomena. As Gunners swelled, a quiet revolution was taking place at Rollers. Zambian Freddie Mwila took over as coach. In 1994, Rollers were, for most of the season, neck to neck with Gunners. Mwila decamped to coach Zebras and his former assistant at Power Dynamos, Edwin Kanyanta, replaced him. The two could not be more different - Mwila was the bricklayer, while Kanyanta came with the plaster to finish off what his compatriot had started. A man who exemplifies that era is Mmoni "States" Segopolo, who has been hailed in many quarters as a true servant of the game, courtesy of his staying power. Segopolo first pitched up at Rollers training grounds in 1988, at the time as a reserve player who helped the team train. "In 1991, I was registered as a Rollers player," he remembers. Some of the people he played with are Mokwadi "KK" Mokgwathi, Ronan "Lefty" Ntseane, Mbakiso "Hisso" Sebina and Thabo Motang. Segopolo has seen the team change - both in terms of the management, players as well as training grounds. When he joined, Rollers trained at a ground that is now the Fire Station near the bus and taxi terminal, before moving to SSG grounds and then to Botswana National Youth Council grounds in Gaborone West. Kanyanta's team was half awake in the first half, but always came back from the dressing room fired up. "The thing with Kanyanta was that he was very good at reading the game, that is why we played so well in the second half," says Segopolo. Aaron "Route 4" Radira was pivotal at the back, Moshe "Killer" Dipatane provided fantasy in the middle, Desmond Molefhe, Joseph Chikoti and Segopolo gave Rollers power upfront. There was also Keitumetse Paul at right back. In 1995, Rollers won the league, their first since 1987. The older generation of fans who grew up on a diet of glorious titles in the 1970s and 1980s were beginning to lose hope. They cursed under their breaths, wondering what had happened to the team that was once so dominant. What could have been more glorious than the four successive league titles of 1982 - 1985? In 1987, Rollers reclaimed the title from city rivals GU who were crowned champions under the tutelage of Thomas "Zero" Johnson in 1986. At the height of frustrating seasons, Rollers' supporters who knew the golden era left the games still on - knowing that once trailing, their boys could never reverse the score margins. They could not bear it anymore, but they were sure to return the following weekend, to a similar fate. The 1995 success was short lived; soon, it was back to curses again. More barren years followed. The team that a noted Setswana expert Kgomotso Mogapi had assembled disintegrated. Star striker Chikoti was auctioned to Wits University in South Africa, Paul went to Extension Gunners, Radira briefly went to Mogoditshane Fighters. The gap they left was too much for the younger generation to bridge and it showed. It did not get better. In 1997 Notwane won the league, their first title since 1978, under Paul Moyo. He completely changed the team's mentality. Notwane fans had grown accustomed to the notion of slick passing game. Winning mattered, but only when executed with verve and finesse. Moyo chucked the philosophy out of the window, in pursuit of the bottom line - the score sheet. Long serving striker Brown Gasemotho was at the tail end of his career, and goal-scoring responsibilities were placed on the shoulders of Shono Ngaka. Innocent Ranku bended them with precision from the left and Joy Kenosi was solid at the back. When he was around - and when he was on the zone - Oliver "Robbo" Khonzaphi was equally destructive. Khonzaphi could gain and lose weight at the blink of an eye and he loved taking on defenders. Notwane domination was terrible for Rollers supporters, who snarled. Those on the opposite side snarled back. Notwane and GU were Siamese twins who represented the high class of Gaborone. Notwane were formed in Mafikeng in 1965 by Bechunaland Protectorate civil servants - before the trek to Gaborone to prepare for independence the following year. GU are simply a breakaway side, when the then Notwane manager Jacob Mamelodi and some first team players resigned en-masse to form a new team - hence the expression that, "GU ke legopo la Notwane" (GU is a rib of Notwane). Hovering around that palace coup was the ever-charismatic Matheadira Wellie Seboni, whose vision was to unite all Gaborone teams. Rollers, on the other hand began, as an informal outfit of Public Works Division (PWD). It was once called Mighty Blues before changing to the present name. To these people, Rollers meant everything - the ultimate atonement therapy for many of life's setbacks. Each goal was celebrated with gleeful exuberance. To see the team from the city's greener side dominate their last outpost - football - was heartbreaking for the masses. BDF XI took the title in 1997, and Notwane regained the trophy in 1998. Things turned again in 1999. Enter David Bright, a captain in the army. He had been perfecting the 3-5-2 formation at Mogoditshane Fighters and now it was time to unleash his boys. In fact, the system was so in vogue that most teams tried it, some with dismal outcomse. The result was near domination with three straight league titles. Bright depended on his longtime skipper Masego Nchingane, who was recruited from Notwane. Formerly of Mahalapye United Hotspurs, Nchingane bended balls from any part of the pitch and he led from the front. There was also Barney Marman as the creative midfielder, Kennedy Sakala at the back, Modesto Chilumdumane upfront, and Shimane Ntshweu on the flank. "I played 3-5-2 because I had the players for the formation. In Chilundumane and Edwin Disang, I had two great forwards, with Mogogi Gabonamaong, Sakala and Donald Thobega at the back. In the midfield, I had Marman and Nchingane. The team was balanced and mature," Bright says. How do sides compare? Segopolo has won two championships with Rollers (1995 and 2004-2005) and feels that the present crop of players are better than those of the all-conquering sides. "If you look at 1995, we had a lot of experienced players, having played together for a longtime. The present boys are more talented, and the team just needs to keep them together. In a few years time they will mature into a team to reckon with," Segopolo says. (FPN) Send us your comments about Mmegi newspaper Search For Old Newspaper Editions To advertise contact us through email

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