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A football royalty on the brink

MQONDISI DUBE
Once upon a time: Chiefs supporters during happy times PIC: KENNEDY RAMOKONE
A decade ago, Mochudi Centre Chiefs were the undisputed local football’s royalty. They bludgeoned opponents into submission on their way to five top-flight titles. But the royal robes are fast fading as the club royal authority wanes, observes Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE

Mochudi Centre Chiefs were mid-table opponents until the summer of 2008 when under Ernest Molome’s leadership, the team delivered a first-ever Premier League title. It opened the trophy floodgates as Magosi cantered to several titles, matching bitter rivals Township Rollers pound-for-pound.

How Chiefs went about their business left many green with envy. The Chiefs roadshows littered every football venue across the country as a new sense of belief and fortitude were ingrained. A glut of talent arrived at the Kgatleng side, as the club became the dream destination of every local player.

Talk of eye-watering bonuses dominated football gossip, with Molome’s perceived generosity seen as the driving force that delivered several glorious moments. Winning a trophy became par for the course at Magosi and the expectation was hardly surprising given the sparkling talent at disposal. Jerome ‘JJ’ Ramatlhakwana, Pontsho and Dirang Moloi, Sekhana ‘Nandos’ Koko, Noah Maposa, Phenyo Mongala, Oteng ‘Limkokwing’ Moalosi, James Kanchinga and Given Mpundu were part of the hair-raising project, that scared even the most battle-hardened local opponent.

Chiefs then graduated from being local football’s royalty to a much higher pedestal of continental football, rubbing their great shoulders with Africa’s finest. They took part in the CAF Champions League and at one stage, faced then champions, TP Mazembe of DRC. Although it ended in a 6-1 shellacking, Chiefs had gained invaluable experience.

Businessman, Sayed Jamali took control of the Kgatleng giants, but he had withdrawn his investment by 2016. After that it was all downhill as Chiefs’ fortunes began to wither. A common local infection struck down the Kgatleng giants.

The ‘boardroom’ disease was swift and progressed at a worrying rate. But the Magosi family appeared oblivious to the danger and failed to heed the glaring warning signs. There was a languid demeanour to their approach. On autopilot, the Chiefs family appeared to live on the hope that the problem will fly away. But amid the hopes, the club slid into the Intensive Care Unit. There were several red flags, now hard to ignore. Chiefs battled relegation, failed to regularly shell players’ dues while boardroom wrangles raged on.

The inferno had engulfed the House of Chiefs and firefighters were engaged in a losing battle to douse the fires. The period between 2015 and 2019 was particularly long and painful for

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the club’s faithful. At the tail end of the summer of 2019, the overwhelmed team succumbed and fell headfirst into the lower division. It was a brutal fall, which left a gaping hole in the top division. Up until Chiefs’ problems, the league had turned into an exciting competition, particularly the matchups between Magosi and Rollers.

The two exchanged the title between 2009 until Jwaneng Galaxy gatecrashed the party last year after a controversial decision to prematurely end the season with 10 games remaining. But by then, Chiefs’ had been reduced to a punching bag as their troubles worsened. At the same time, across town Rollers were enjoying their place in the sun, harvesting four league titles between 2015 and 2019. The void left by Magosi in the Premier League has not, up to date, been sufficiently filled.

The rivalry between Rollers and the other pretenders to the throne like Orapa United, Gaborone United and Galaxy has failed to rise to the expected heights reached by Chiefs. While analysts felt Chiefs’ fall to the First Division was the required wake-up call, it appears to have pushed the side close to oblivion. Chiefs were nowhere near the top when the league was halted in March, with Mogoditshane Fighters and Masitaoka the bulls in the First Division kraal. In fact, Chiefs’ woes have worsened after their former coach, Philani Mabena dragged the club to FIFA over a P120,000 debt.

Last week, FIFA summoned Chiefs to a disciplinary hearing on February 11, where a heavy punishment could be meted if the Mabena debt remains uncleared.

A group of directors recently gave the committee an ultimatum to hand over the running of the club to a company, Mochudi Centre Chiefs Pty Ltd, as it continues to pour for the team.

Chairperson, Thapelo Tsheole, brought in to shore up the club, and bring a business-like approach to running the team, will not seek re-election at the next Annual General Meeting, dealing a further blow to the rescue efforts. But as former US president, Donald Trump said in his valedictory on Wednesday, maybe Chiefs "will come back in some form". But worryingly, history is littered with cases of big teams that left the top flight with promises of a return but failed to bounce back.



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