The amazing tale of Bantu goalminder Liteboho Mokhesi
Nurtured on the dusty streets of Thibella in Maseru, Liteboho Mokhesi has defied the odds to become one of the finest goalkeepers in Lesotho and the first choice stopper at league champions, Bantu.
Mokhesi, who started his football career as a midfielder for Bafana ba Matlama (Matlama’s development team), told the Sunday Express how tragedy changed him from an outfield player to a keeper, and also the joy he derives from the beautiful game as well as when he expects to call it a day.
The 29-year-old remembers how he kick-started his career under the guidance of Taole ‘Tata Mocholone’ Ndebele at Bafana ba Matlama, before moving to Bantu where he is such a revered figure and influential member of the team.
“I did my primary education at Methodist, where we would play football with my friends. I then decided to join Bafana ba Matlama, whose coach was Tata,” Mokhesi said.
“From Methodist, I went to Mabathoana High School and then the National University of Lesotho (NUL) in 2003.”
Mokhesi said he left Bafana ba Matlama at the age of 11, and joined Likhopo, which had just been formed by Bishop Molatoli.
“At 11 years of age, I joined Likhopo, alongside most of the guys we were playing with at Bafana ba Matlama. The team had just been formed by Bishop Molatoli, and was in the B Division.”
However, a year after joining Likhopo, Mokhesi’s football career took a dramatic turn, albeit in tragic fashion.
“I still remember that day clearly. We were playing at St James Ground and I handled the ball inside the penalty area, and the ref rightly awarded a penalty, and we lost that match. My teammates were so angry with me, especially Tefo ‘Chico’ Maipato, who was my closest friend.
“We did not have a regular goalkeeper at the time, and any player who failed to make it into the outfield team, ended up being the goalkeeper. So as Bishop was writing the line-up in our next match, Chico argued that I should not be in the starting lineup as I was costing the team. Instead, Chico said I must be the goalkeeper, and Bishop took his advice. That is how I became a goalkeeper; not by choice but circumstances,” he laughed.
“Before every match, Chico would be practicing with me in goals and all of a sudden, I fell in love with the position. That passion remains to this day.”
In-fact, Mokhesi excelled so much in goals he was called-up for the national under-12 side, which played their South African counterparts as curtain-raisers before the Likuena/Bafana Bafana match at Setsoto Stadium.
“From that day, I never looked back as I played for all the junior national teams, until I made it into the senior team, Likuena.”
Before moving to Bantu at the start of the 2011/12 season, Mokhesi played for NUL Rovers and Matlama.
Mokhesi was an important member of the A Matšo Matebele team which won the Independence Top 4 competition three times in a row from 2011/12, and the league title last season—the first Premiership title for the Mafeteng-based outfit.
Mokhesi said: “In 2003, I left Likhopo for Rovers and very unfortunately, things did not work out for me and guess what happened, Chico was back home. He was with Orlando Pirates’ development team at the time and he encouraged me to join Matlama. Again, things went wrong at Matlama, so I joined Bantu and Chico was also behind the move.”
According to Mokhesi, once he decided on a goalkeeping career, he did everything possible to ensure he excelled.
“I grew up idolizing Likuena goalkeeper, Tšeliso Thite. I would even be his ball-boy during Likuena matches just to be close to him. Fortunately, I had the chance to play with him at Likhopo, and he was always encouraging me to focus on football in order to succeed.”
Mokhesi, who also won the league title with Likhopo and Matlama, says he is happy with his achievements and how his football career has gone so far.
“Each time I play, I want to win and winning the league title with three different clubs is a big achievement for me. I am also satisfied with my current form although I will be on the sidelines for almost a month due to a hamstring injury,” said Mokhesi.
According to Mokhesi, being disciplined is what has taken his career to such dizzy heights.
“I am very disciplined, hardworking and dedicated to football. I always take the game seriously and don’t play it just to waste time. I believe that is why I am where I am today. Working hard to achieve my goals is one of my principles when it comes to life.”
Mokhesi also revealed why he has been turning down national team call-ups since he left Matlama three seasons ago.
“It is true that I have been turning them down, but it was not through bitterness. It is just that I wanted things to be done professionally because I believe players must be treated equally. When players are called for national duty, there are letters that are sent to their respective teams and their workplaces asking for their release but it was never the same with me after I left Matlama.”
Asked if local football standards were improving or declining, Mokhesi said: “The game is on the rise, but the unfortunate part is that the improvement is only at club level, although finances are still a challenge for most teams. At national level, there are some serious matters that need to be attended to, which are hindering the growth of the game.
“For instance, we lack many things, especially our development structures. There is no continuity in our football; it’s like we always start a new team every year. I lost hope and was very disappointed after that under-20 team which did well to qualify for the 2005 African Youth Championship was dismantled. We were a very good side which could have taken our football to greater heights but it was just abandoned after that tournament,” Mokhesi added.
Mokhesi, who was crowned 2013/14 Vodacom Premier League goalkeeper of the season, further revealed he would like to end his career at Bantu at the age of 35 years “at least”.
“I have played for a very long time now and have been going up and down. Now I have decided to settle with Bantu and hope to end my career here when I am around 35 years of age. At this age, I cannot be expected to join another team and start afresh.
“When I joined Bantu, I received a very warm welcome from everybody associated with the club. I am very proud to be part of this outfit and very glad that I was part of the team that made history and won the league for the first time in the 87-year history of the club.
“We understand each other very well as players, which makes it easy for us to complement each other.
“We hope to defend our league title after failing to win Top 4 tournament, so our supporters must keep on rallying behind us. I really thank them because we couldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for their support.”
Mokhesi also urged administrators to respect players if they really want to see football growing in the country.
“The biggest challenge we face, as players, is that administrators do not respect us. They see us as their boys and believe they can do whatever they want with us. Look at how players struggle when they want to leave some teams, so my plea is that they must treating players with the respect they deserve.
“I also think, as players, that we must have an association or union, that will protect our interests.”