MASERU – League champions Matlama will next Sunday face South Africa’s Supersport United in a Caf Champions League tie that could bring to the fore the widening chasm in the standards of football between the two countries.
Matlama will take glamour side Supersport United in a first leg preliminary round tie at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane.
The return leg will be at Setsoto Stadium in Maseru in a fortnight.
The match will see players who play on “potato fields” with no contracts taking on the best on the continent.
But at least Matlama will have a unique chance to measure themselves against the best and build their brand.
Tse Putsoa are however trying to improve.
Matlama’s spiritual home Pitso Ground is now a grassed field and when next season kicks off in August the Glamour Boys will join Lesotho Correctional Service and Lesotho Defence Force as the only sides that own a ground with grass.
The development deserves huge praise and Matlama’s team manager Lebenya Makakole says the club has greater plans.
“We still have places where we need to patch up, but it’s almost complete,” Makakole says in an interview on Monday.
“We are aiming high and we want to take other steps forward. By 2014 we are supposed to be professional; we want to get there before that. At the end of the season we want to sign reasonable contracts with our players,” he continues.
Makakole was speaking to the Sunday Express at the Pitso Ground which was a “mere minefield” as recently as September.
It shows what can be achieved with increased effort and now Matlama are closer to possessing one of the basics of professional football, a turfed, fully functional ground.
However, as Makakole points out, there is more that needs to be done including erecting a wall around the ground.
It’s in areas such as these that clubs need help.
For example, placing turf has cost the club over M100 000.
This was the amount that Tse Putsoa received for winning the Vodacom Premier League last May.
Matlama usually attracted crowds of between 300 to 600 supporters and gate receipts collected fail to cover overheads like paying players’ salaries.
This is why Makakole believes there is still some way to go for all clubs to achieve professionalism.
“We are still far,” Makakole says, pointing to poor grounds and attendances. “If I put something as a sponsor I am expecting something in return and it’s made even more difficult when the product on match days is not good.”
“Let’s have good infrastructure and good facilities, then we can maybe see an improvement,” Makakole says.
Makakole also dismissed the notion that clubs were not doing enough to attract sponsors.
Instead, he stressed the importance of improved infrastructure and says clubs, the Lesotho Football Association (Lefa), local government and central government all need to chip in.
“There is not a single team that is sitting down, every company has a proposal from one of our teams,” Makakole insists.
Playing in the Champions League will give the club exposure and a potential money-spinning clash when Tse Putsoa host Supersport at Setsoto Stadium on February 13.
On the field the incentives for beating Supersport are also colossal.
If Matlama beat the South Africans in this preliminary round they will be guaranteed at least two more massive matches.
In the first round Tse Putsoa will face Egypt’s Al Ahly with the winner of that tie progressing to the next round while the loser will drop into Caf’s second tier club tournament, the Confederation Cup.
Makakole points to Lesotho’s national Under-20 team trailblazing win over South Africa and their eventual qualification for this year’s Caf African Youth Championship as motivation for Tse Putsoa.
Makakole says Lesotho can only progress if there is an attitude change among players, supporters and administrators.
“If I was in another country I would be able to say where we would be five years from now, here it is hard to predict,” Makakole says.
“It has to do with the attitude of the nation; I believe we don’t support our own. If we have a game and Pirates or Chiefs are playing at the same time, then 90 percent of the people are going to watch them on TV,” Makakole says.
“If we don’t support our team then how will we get anywhere?” he says.