Despite an injury-hit career, Thato Siska did enough to leave a decent mark on the local football scene. Curiously nicknamed, ‘Sister Bettina’, Siska had stints abroad and was also part of the Zebras under British coach, Colwyn Rowe. He talks to Mmegi Sport Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE about a brief but adventurous career
Siska might not have reached the heights that he yearned for in his football career due to multiple injuries, but he left soccer fans with fond memories. He was only 29 when he decided to call it quits as his legs gave in to frequent injuries. Those who were around in 2006 will not forget ‘Sister Bettina’s valuable contribution when he rose highest to nod home Diphetogo Selolwane’s free-kick as the Zebras beat Burundi 1-0 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. The Zebras were under the tutelage of Rowe, and Siska said the diminutive coach showed trust in his abilities. “Unfortunately, I did not play much for the Zebras because of constant injuries but the game that stands out is the one against Burundi where I scored the winner. I had been recalled to the national team by coach Rowe who believed so much in my abilities as a player,” Siska said.
Rowe’s predecessor, Vesselin Jelušić occasionally called up Siska, but injuries were always the monkey on the striker’s back. The Francistown-born Siska’s career took off from the early age of 12 when he played in the then Chappies Little League, a grassroots development programme. “I first started my football career with Armcity FC back in the day in the Chappies Little League. Playing under Michael Gaborone (Spokes) was an honour because he was a good coach and a father figure to a lot of us. I then moved to a third division team called Marang FC before joining Mochudi Centre Chiefs, where I played with great players such as Edwin Tlhabangane Masire, Chicco Dance Nare, Ernest Mitti, Seabo Gabanakgosi and Parker Mampori, just to name but a few. From Chiefs I joined Notwane FC,” he said. He joined Chiefs at the age of 16. At 23 years, he turned professional.
“I had experiences in South Korea, Israel, Brunei, and Malaysia. At some point, while playing in and out of the country and the national team, I had to succumb to a very bad knee injury that forced me to have knee replacement surgery in Cape Town, South Africa. After recovery, I was headhunted by a team (Al Nahdha FC, Oman), that had seen me play in Malaysia and United Arab Emirates (UAE),” he said. He went abroad when he was 25-years-old. Siska then returned home for a memorable spell with Uniao Flamengo Santos, a team that took the local scene by storm.
“I had great moments with former teammates such as Pius Kgolagano, Koti Koti and one of my favourite former local players, Vincent ‘Ortega’ Kgaswane. We formed a lethal team under the guidance of the late David Bright (MHSRIP), Clever Hunda and Sexton ‘Bra Tshidi’ Kowa. From Santos, I re-joined Chiefs but unfortunately sustained another knee injury during my first game of the league. That’s when I decided to hang up my boots because I could not take the constant pain and injuries that I had sustained throughout my football career,” the 41-year-old said. He said he would have liked to play longer had it not been for injuries, which curtailed his progress.
Siska said turning professional was his highlight as it was tough back then, with little support from authorities.
“But I managed to penetrate the international scene through the support of my wife, mother, and my father (Freddie Mwila) who introduced me to my former agent Mr Mwala (MHSRIP).”
On how he got the nickname ‘Sister Bettina’ Siska said it came from a former teammate at Santos and Zebras player, Kgakgamatso ‘Kaka’ Pharo. “I remember the song Sister Bettina was trending at that time and on that day during an exercise at training, Kaka kept on messing up, so I stopped passing the ball to him and he got very upset with me. I heard him shout “Siska, Siska, phasa bolo tlhe monna... Aahh! O Sister Bettina monna …and that’s when the nickname stuck to me,” he said.
Siska weighed on former local footballers staying away from administration. “Yes, it is very unfortunate that our football federation is not recognising the potential value that former footballers could contribute to the development and success of our football fraternity as we see in many other countries. I believe there are many areas that Botswana could use former footballers to uplift the country’s football administratively or in other areas. Particularly because many former players continue to have a keen interest in football many years after they retired,” he said. Siska does not see an immediate role in the game as he is focussed on a different career path. “I was fortunate to have set plans whilst playing football and saw them through when I retired. When I turned professional, I was pursuing an AAT at the Botswana Accountancy College (BAC) but did not complete it because I took the opportunity to play abroad, so after I retired, I went back to school to pursue academic qualifications such as a Degree (Hons) in Business Enterprise and a Masters (MSc) in Strategic Management.” However, he said he remains available to serve the game in whatever capacity, in order to impart his football knowledge.
He wants to see more grassroots development in order to move the local game forward. “The current state of football in our country is very sad. We need to invest in the game to reap the rewards. Grassroot level development is very important in any project, so financial investment and commitment from stakeholders will certainly develop our football or any other sport in Botswana. It should be a long-term budgeted goal. Infrastructure, facilities, training, and development would be key elements in the growth of our sport. We need strategic partners from all over the world who will teach us and assist us in developing our own sport,” he said.
Siska reckons back in the day there was a commitment to the game, which he argues, has been replaced by self-empowerment to the detriment of the sport. “It is all about self-empowerment, which will not get us anywhere.
We are no different from our neighbours, South Africa but they have chosen to invest in the game and its players,” he said.