PALAPYE: A fill-in plan for a youthful Maphatshwa marksman who was spurned by two local teams following his relocation here, inspired the formation of the surging Morupule Wanderers.
Over four decades later, the story of Morupule Wanderers’ formation is still as interesting as if it just happened yesterday.
The nostalgic journey of the mining team provides an insight into perseverance, tenacity and resoluteness. It started off from the dusty grounds of social soccer to Premier League.
It was exactly 45-years-ago when a Serowe native, Kgakgamatso ‘Hippo’ Ponatshego arrived in Palapye to eke out a living at Morupule Coal Mine. He joined the Mine as an administrator aged 23.
With his speed and dribbling skills across the district, Maphatshwa wonder boy’s arrival in the village charmed the local giants of Palapye Swallows and Palapye United. He diametrically changed the complexion of the game. It was not long before he became the cynosure of all eyes at the games.
His popularity was captured in the “Thabela pele Hippo o teng” (Just direct the balls forward Hippo will utilise them) anthem that became popular at the local games and still lives on.
The two blood rivals were secretly courting him. While he stayed in Palapye, Hippo travelled over the weekends to play for his home side, Maphatshwa some 44 kilometres west of Palapye in the neighbouring Serowe.
During the week, Swallows offered him training with their squad until he committed what appeared like a grave crime. His crime was turning up against Swallows in the black and white colours of blood rivals Palapye United.
To add salt to injury, he scored in the game, and the irked Swallows management immediately gave him the boot from their ground.
It was a taboo for a player to wear two colours of rival teams. You will be called all bad names if you cross that line and the supporters were unforgiving. Hippo was allowed nowhere near the Swallows team ever since.
PU’s ground was rather too far from where Hippo stayed and he could not travel everyday for training after work. He chose to set up a social team at work (Morupule) where he could freely train and enjoy his passion - the pigskin.
He sold the idea to his two work colleagues, the late Selby Kaisara and Wakgotla Matheka, and together they founded Morupule Wanderers in 1977.
Little did they know the social team that harboured no ambitions at formation would claim its stake in the mix of village football battles. Four decades later, the harmless team has matured to rub shoulders with the bigwigs in the top-flight league.
From inception, they got support from the Mine. They were provided with transport as they played most of their games outside Palapye.
Competition against the already established Swallows and United was unimaginable. A year later, the team gained traction and became strong.
They penciled a deal offering jobs to players luring them to the team. It was a masterstroke as they recruited players from Swallows and United.
Mid-1978 Wanderers competed in the North/South region league. Playing in the league, they attracted players in the likes of Itumeleng ‘Promoter’ Maricha from as far as Kanye and coaches like Soccer Matlapeng from Tlokweng. Matlapeng was a procurement officer at Lotsane Senior Secondary School then and he recruited many players from Lotsane to beef up the Wanderers Brigade.
They faired well in the league and immediately joined the rivalry. Wanderers were seen as neutrals. They had their paltry support from mineworkers. But because of their neutral status, they would enjoy massive support from the Swallows fans when they faced United and vice-versa.
As the status of the club grew, Wandi-Wandi as the club is referred to
“As we grew, the team became a big part of my life. It was like a baby to me. I did a lot of things in the team from playing to the administration for about 14 years and it never bothered me. I was a true footballer,” reminisces Hippo, who was a speedy and forceful attacker in his heydays.
The team was accommodated at different homesteads in Serorome and Fitase where Hippo rented.
At Fitase, Hippo lodged at Mma Selathi’s house and at Serorome at Mma Selefo’s, which will go down history books as the most notable ‘club houses’. The two houses are less than 200 metres apart and are only divided by the village main road. The footprints of Wanderers are still vivid in the minds of the dwellers.
Boiki Casalis, last born of Mma Selefo remembers vividly Wanderers’ preparations for their first match. The team grew under his eyes, and he counts himself as one of the first supporters of the club.
“I washed the kit with my brother and it was exciting because it meant a match day. We were always looking forward to a match,” he recalls.
His late brother, Modirwa Selefo and neighbour Row Masalila were huge fanatics of Wanderers. Modirwa was so fond of Hippo that he inherited his name as he played street soccer with his peers in Palapye. He remembers playing against the likes of Miscellaneous, Queens Park Rangers, Swallows and PU that were the established forces in the region then. “We came as the underdogs in a number of games but we won. It was too exciting; we grew from strength to strength. We had amazing players like Promoter, Radio Five, Shine wa Mmakono, Hippo and others,” he says, noting that they followed the club religiously across the vast Central District.
Since the team went into oblivion for a long time the support has dwindled. They found themselves supporting other local teams. Hippo’s days at the Coal Mine reached the twilight and he went back home to Maphatshwa where he served as the club chairperson. He left the club in the Second Division League.
MCM picked the club from the Division One (former second division) doldrums where Hippo left it and transformed it into a force to reckon with.
They found their way into the Debswana First Division North three seasons ago and set premiership promotion goals on the third season. Wandi-Wandi achieved the goal recently when they vanquished Jwaneng Fighters through a 4-2 aggregate in the promotional playoffs. Hippo, who is a Rollers supporter, says he would retrace to Wanderers. He says the club had been in close contact with him since joining the First Division League.
“I formed this club, and I still carry the first blue (player registration) book of the club, therefore, I am the number one supporter. I have an obligation to lead the supporters, if I don’t support my idea who will?” he quips. One of the line-ups of years of yore included amongst others goalkeepers Andrew Thomas, Bashingi Gambule and Reuben.Defenders included the late Shine wa Makono, Oshkosh, Malter, Tshipi and Page.
Midfielders who turned up for the team of yesteryear included Vegah Setswerere, Slow Motion, Goleele Moripe Masogo, Walker, Junior Lekgobo David and Stimela Marumo.
Attackers included Hippo Tshiping, David Ramaribana, Promoter Maricha, Dibota Paymaster Dintwa and Force amongst others.