As the glorious Zebras days fade into distant memory, the nation can be comforted by the indelible marks left by some of the warriors who donned the blue, black and white jersey. The Veselin Jelusic era is widely acknowledged as the period when the national side dumped the unwanted tag of ‘Whipping Boys’. During a frenetic period between 2002 and 2006, new heroes were born, amongst them, towering defender Ernest ‘Nansi le ndoda’ Amos, writes MQONDISI DUBE
Soccer fans are unanimous that the football played under Serbian coach, Veselin Jelusic, was probably the best football dish served at national level.
Whenever the national team played, streets would inadvertently be deserted. Fans either trooped to the intimidating fortress that was the National Stadium, or were glued in front of their television sets, ready for another sumptuous round of football.
Before matches, snaking convoys of vehicles would fill the streets, as the nation converged to spur on its gallant sons.
There was an array of talent, and amongst the pack, was a soldier, Ernest Amos, the rock of a defender who answered to the sobriquet, ‘Nansi le ndoda’, which loosely means ‘Here is the man’. And looking at his stature, the nickname fitted like a glove in hand.
“It is a nickname I was given by former radio commentator, Raymond Tsheko. He simply meant ‘here is the man’,” Amos told Mmegi Sport at his work place in Glen Valley this week.
Tsheko giggles when asked about the origins of the name.
“It was because of his age, he was the oldest and he was the leader in defence. He was a good defender,” Tsheko said.
Jelusic’s team was known for its never-say-die attitude, and the sturdy defender was the unerring example of the coach’s philosophy.
He did his duties with unassuming ease; a tough tackler who took no prisoners.
By miles, Amos’ best game in national team colours was against a Mido-led Egypt in 2006. Ahmed Hossam Hussein Abdelhamid, publicly known as Mido, then a Tottenham Hotspurs striker, was largely regarded a talented hothead and was expected to run the Zebras defence rugged. However, he found Amos, an impregnable fortress. The game ended 0-0, but would long be remembered for the way Amos stuck to Mido like glue.
“He said a lot of nasty things during the game to try and take me off course, but I maintained my discipline. He tried to provoke me such that I lose focus, but I did not fall for his trap,” Amos recalled. He added that after the game Mido asked where most of the Zebras players were based.
“He said they had tried to search where most of us play and could not find any player from abroad. He was shocked that we played with so much determination, yet we were playing in a league, which was not even professional.”
Despite several glittering performances for the Zebras, Amos never harboured ambitions of playing abroad.
“I was satisfied with where I was. I never thought of going outside the country,” said Amos, a Coca Cola Cup winner with TASC in 2001.
Amos shone in the heart of the Zebras defence, while for
He does not want to take all the accolades, instead crediting his teammates for his performances.
On why they performed at such a high level despite a lack of incentives, Amos said representing the country was sufficient motivation.
“There was no money then, but we were motivated. It was not about the money but representing our country. I don’t know what has gone wrong. Nowadays, the game is all about money,” said Amos, who now coaches Happy Hearts in Division One.
He was not a ball-carrying defender, but said he encourages his players at Happy Hearts to play the ball on the ground.
“It is a philosophy that I inherited from the likes of Seth Moleofhi (at TASC), Veselin, Stan Tshosane (national team). I then brought in my own experience and style into coaching.” Amos started his career in 1993 with a now defunct side, Monarch First 11, a then Division Two club in Francistown.
“I cannot tell how I ended up in football, but I felt I had the capability and could make my contribution. I was spotted by TASC and joined them in 1994,” he said.
Amos’ career actually started off between the sticks, where he served as a goalkeeper for Monarch First 11.
Then he was moved into defensive midfield before a switch to defence.
His first national team call-up came in 1998, and he went on to represent the country 57 times. Despite other players from the North being lured by the cash in the South, he remained loyal to TASC.
“I was at work, TASC was under the Botswana Defence Force and I was comfortable where I was. That is why I did not want to move.”
He said players from popular community clubs would often tell him about their frustrations, and it did not make sense to move just for the sake of popularity.
In 2006, his employers transferred him to Gaborone, where he joined fellow army side, BDF XI, until he hung up his boots in 2010.
TASC suffered due to the government, through the BDF, withdrawing its support for certain sporting sides.
He picks Tshepiso ‘Sox’ Molwantwa as his most difficult local opponent. “You see Sox, he was something else. I want to tell the truth. His off-the-ball movements were out of this world. At the end of the game, as a defender you would be exhausted,” he said. At national level he said there was a striker from Kenya, who was burly and gave him a torrid time over two legs.