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Makoko lives up to Mazenod billing

 

Tseliso Fothoane
Tseliso Fothoane

MAZENOD is renowned for having produced many top-flight footballers in the country among whom is former Swallows and Matlama goalkeeper Tšeliso Fothoane.

The towering former Likuena shot-stopper this past week took Sunday Express (SE) sports reporter Moorosi Tsiane for a ride back in time to his glory days when the football fraternity affectionately called him Makoko and on his current role as coach of newly-promoted A Division side Swallows.

SE: Your team was recently promoted into the A Division. Surely that’s cause for celebration?

Fothoane: Of course it is, but you also need to remember where we are coming from. Swallows was playing in the premier league until I fell ill and was unable to coach the team. They were relegated from the premiership to the lower division until they ended up in the B Division. But I am happy with the progress we are making. They all know what I am expecting from them; they got this team relegated and they will get it back to where it is supposed to be.

SE: I have noticed you prefer working with young players. What’s the logic behind that approach?

Fothoane: One thing I like about young players is they are good listeners and are committed. I started working with the current group when they were six-years-old and they have grown up together. Just give us two years, and we will be one of the best sides in the country.

Four of our players are in the national under-20 team that is playing in the 2017 Africa Under-20 Cup of Nations qualifiers.

SE: Talking about the national under-20 team, I have learnt that your son, Lehlohonolo, is among the four players you mentioned. You must be proud?

Fothoane: {laughs} I really am. He is one of the hot young players at the moment, and the big teams have already come knocking for his services. However, I have made it very clear he is not leaving Swallows, at least not for now.

SE: What is your assessment of his performances in the national under-20 team?

Fothoane: Frankly, I have not been impressed because I know he can do much better. Lehlohonolo is used to playing in the final third because he is a good shooter and can run with the ball as well as dribble. He hasn’t shown those attributes playing for the national under-20 team.

The good thing is he is my friend in football. He knows how I feel, and he also told me what is going on. I am just waiting for the upcoming season to start; sparks will fly I tell you.

SE: Turning to your playing days, I am told you are one the best shot-stoppers this country has ever produced. Is there any merit to that claim?

Fothoane: I was born and bred in Mazenod, and if you know that place’s history as far as football is concerned, you wouldn’t be surprised about that.

I started my career with the Swallows development team (Bafana) in the 1977/78 season under the mentorship of the late Nathanael Lepota.

During that time, the Swallows senior team was collapsing. So, Ntate Lepota encouraged us to register our team in the C Division, and three seasons later we were in the premier league.

We played for two seasons and in the third season we won our first ever Top 8 trophy in 1983.

SE: What was the formula for the team’s success?

Fothoane: We had played together for some time, and understood each other. I think that is what helped us to shine.

The core of that team was also attending Masianokeng High School and we were dominating even in Lesotho Institutions of Sports Association games.

We won several other accolades until I decided to leave Swallows for Matlama in 1989.

SE: Why did you leave Swallows?

Fothoane: Swallows failed to make a top four finish in my last season playing for the team. The failure was not because we played badly, but because we were robbed by the people who were in charge of football administration at the time.

SE: How were you robbed?

Fothoane: One of our players was stabbed by a Majantja supporter during a match in Mohale’s Hoek, and the issue was brought before the courts.

We won the case, but the verdict was given on a day when a Top4 final match was being played. The presiding judge said Matlama, who were number four, would play in the finals because it was in the “nation’s interest”.

SE: What was this ‘nation’s interest’?

Fothoane: They claimed that Matlama had spent a lot of money preparing for the finals. We were very disappointed.

I was then headhunted by then Matlama team manager Tiyo Williams. He would assist my family financially from time to time because, during that era, there was no money in football. I had just completed my studies and looking for a job.

SE: Matlama is one of the big guns in our league. Playing for them must have been a dream come true for you?

Fothoane: It was, believe you me. In the year that I joined them, we won the league title and played in a continental tournament. I used to compete for a place in the first team with Leslie Notši.

SE: Did you end your playing career at Matlama?

Fothoane: Not at all. I left Matlama in the early 1990s, and I now detest that team because of what they did to me.

SE: Those are strong words. How did they wrong you?

Fothoane: After winning the league, we were supposed to face off with a Mauritius team in an international match.

However, I was left behind even though I was their number one goalkeeper. Politics and discrimination in football started a long time ago.

On the day we were supposed to leave for Mauritius, I was told we would fly from Moshoeshoe I International Airport. Since I was from Mazenod, I was told to wait along the road for the car taking us to the airport.

I waited the whole day with my luggage in vain, only to find out later that they went to catch a plane in Bloemfontein.

SE: That must have been hard to you… What happened when they returned?

Fothoane: I also discovered that one of their key players had given them an ultimatum that if his brother, who was on a red card, did not travel with the team, he would not come.  So they decided to sacrifice me.

When they returned Ntate Tiyo came up with some lousy excuses and I was no longer interested. I decided to return to Swallows who had been relegated to the lower division.

Upon my arrival at Swallows I played as a forward until 1994 when I decided to be a player-coach.

SE: How did you get the nickname Makoko?

Fothoane: I actually got that nickname from my schoolmates. I remember teasing my friend saying I saw his father in town selling a donkey’s hide (lekoko) and everyone laughed. From that day, I was called Makoko.

SE: As a coach and a former player what’s your take on the state of local football?

Fothoane: I will be frank with you, most of the boys playing nowadays wouldn’t have made it during my time. They are mama’s boys and their attitude leaves a lot to be desired. The only time they see a football is during their training sessions and that is not enough.

During my time, players used to push themselves because we understood the importance of being fit. If you put our players in any international match, you will see the huge difference with their counterparts.

The other important aspect we are missing is clear development structures.

SE: How can we overcome all these challenges?

Fothoane: It will take time, but I guess since teams are pushing to attain the semi-professional level, they must have binding contratcs with their players. Players must know what they are expected to do and how they are expected to behave on and off the field. If we can have orientation for players every off season to help them understand the importance of this I think that can bring some change and share some light.

The issue of incentives must also be look into. Of course, we can’t compare our country with others, but at least we must try to give the players something that will motivate them because the truth of the matter is the football landscape has really changed. The corporate sector should start investing in sport.

SE: Mazenod is renowned for producing fine players, but ill-discipline has been the downfall of many. How are you going to deal with this challenge in your team?

Fothoane: That problem was prevalent many years ago, with some young people not wanting to go to school and preferring to spend their days drinking. Fortunately, that is slowly changing because we have graduates playing football. I am also trying to instill virtues of hard work and education into my players.

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