Tšenola is popular for producing extremely good male footballers, but it appears the village is equally blessed when it comes to their female counterparts if Palesa Mpeta is to be used as a barometer.
Iniesta, as Mpeta is affectionately known, plies her trade with Likhosatsana Football Club—a force to reckon with in the Women’s Super League which returned to the domestic sporting calendar after a two-year absence due to lack of funds.
Mpeta, who was born on 23 May 1994, says she has always been an avid football fan and would kick plastic balls around the dusty streets of Tšenola with boys her age.
The midfielder was to join FC Likhopo in 2004 while attending Makoanyane Primary School before moving to her current team, Likhosatsana, when she enrolled at Phomolong High School.
“I grew up loving football; I don’t even know why but I believe it’s because of where I grew up since Tšenola is known for producing good footballers. I would play the game on the streets with boys my age and when I joined Likhopo’s junior team, I was still playing with boys, although I was a girl,” Mpeta said.
The 21-year-old told the Sunday Express she never felt any “different” and fitted well in a team full of boys.
“When I started playing with them (boys), I never felt any different; I thought we were all the same. I think it was because they treated me as an equal. I never felt left out when I was in their company. I believe that is one of the things that made me even stronger and develop technically to be the player I am today,” she said.
Mpeta spent six years with Likhopo before joining Likhosatsana after being encouraged by the team’s coach, Ketsibile ‘Killer’ Phatsoane.
“I had a very good time playing with the boys but unfortunately, it couldn’t be forever and in 2010, I was asked by Killer to join Likhosatsana. It really took me time to adjust to the situation; I mean, I had become used to playing with people who understood football but now I was among girls many of whom could not even kick a soccer ball. I couldn’t understand the situation but I continued training with my new teammates until I became used to them. Now we are cool and even have one of the best female footballers in our Women Super League,” chuckled Mpeta.
The midfielder also said her game improved when she was attending Phomolong High School where she completed her studies last year.
“I also played at lot in high school where I won several awards. I believe this was due recognition for doing something I really cared about,” said Mpeta.
However, the midfielder credits her success to Likhosatsana where her talent shone through, leading to a call into the national team, Mehalalitoe, in 2011.
“After joining Likhosatsana, things started happening for me because a year later, I received my first national team call-up. However, my debut was a baptism of fire because we lost the match 4-0 against Zimbabwe,” Mpeta said.
Asked about the standard of women’s football in Lesotho, Mpeta said she has never noticed any improvement since she started playing the game.
“I would be lying if I said I have noticed any signs of improvement in our football. I think the stereotype that football is for men only is the biggest challenge we are faced with. Most people believe girls who play football are lesbians and tomboys, which is not true at all so the community is not really giving us the support we need as players. We are like any other girls out there and the only difference is we just love and play football. However, the positive thing about the criticism is it has helped us, as female players, to become stronger, so we no longer mind the insults. We simply ignore them and carry on with our business.
“Also, I think the two-year break we took without a female football league also disrupted the growth of our game but I am glad things seem to be back to normal now,” she noted.
While certain sections of society have looked down on female footballers, Mpeta said she has been lucky because her family supports her decision to pursue the beautiful game.
“I think my parents understand that we can’t love the same things so they are supporting my choices in life; they have always been with me on this one.”
On her ultimate goal, Mpeta said she would like to play football professionally one day, and go into coaching afterwards.
“To play in a professional league before I hang up my boots is one of the things topping my priority list. I have been working hard, hoping that one day, I would live my dream.
“After my playing days are over, I would want to pursue a coaching career. I am so much in love with football that I don’t want to cut ties with it even when my playing days are over, hence my ambition to become a coach.
“But next year, I want to go to school and further my studies because our football is still very amateur, which means one cannot earn a decent living from it; it does not pay. That’s why it is important that I further my studies to have a career outside football so I can have a source of income.”
Mpeta said she could not wait to lift the Women Super League trophy as her side is leading the eight-team table.
“We have been playing well as a team, winning all the eight matches we have played so far. Hopefully, we will win the league title, which I think will be a good thing for me as I look to develop myself football-wise, and like I said, maybe move to a professional league.”
Name: Palesa Mpeta
Date of Birth: 23 May 1994
Place of birth: Tšenola
International caps: Eight
Honours: 2012 and 2013 LISA player of the tournament (Phomolong); player of the tournament- 2012 (Likhosatsana).
Team supported: Matlama
Favorite meal: Pap, veggies and meat
Dream car: Nissan Navara
Role model: Tokelo Majoro
Marital status: Sing