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Mirror of the glory days


Kholang Mokalanyane
Kholang Mokalanyane

From a football powerhouse at Matlama and the now-defunct Maseru United to top management positions with the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) and Lesotho Sports and Recreation Commission where he is a chief executive officer, Kholang ‘Mirror’ Mokalanyane has seen it all as far as domestic sport is concerned as Sunday Express (SE) sports reporter Moorosi Tsiane found out after spending time with this great sportsman.

SE: Mirror! How on earth did you earn such a nickname?

Mokalanyane: To be honest with you, I don’t even know how I got the name from my early playing days and from there, it was all over the place. You can’t believe it that some people only came to know my real name in my old age! What I know is there was a player named Mirror at Bantu when I was still a kid so maybe we had something in common hence I ended up with that name.

SE: I never knew you were once a top footballer until I was told you were one of the few players who attracted the likes of Kaizer Chiefs…

Mokalanyane: I know it happens especially now that old age is taking over but believe me, I was one of the best footballers of my generation.

SE: Just take us to where it all began.

Mokalanyane: I started at Loreto Primary in Qoaling where I was born and raised. I was still very young at that time but already showing some glimpses of a good player because we would play with friends on the streets.

SE: When was your big break then?

Mokalanyane: In 1968, when I left Loreto for Sacred Heart High School. That is where I started playing seriously. Our school team was made up of senior students but I managed to break into it in my first year at the school.

SE: You were really good then…

Mokalanyane: That’s right; I was indeed very good and it really helped me become a good player because you know back then, there was initiation for new students but I became a favorite and avoided all that ‘treatment’ as it was called.

SE: Which position were you playing?

Mokalanyane: I was a forward; I started playing as a number 10 but ended up playing on the left wing.

SE: When did you start playing for big teams?

Mokalanyane: The very same year I joined Sacred Heart, I was signed by Maseru United. That’s why I said this is where my road to stardom started.

Actually, I think that was the same year I grew as a footballer. I was around 18 years of age at the time.

SE: Sacred Heart is in Leribe, yet you were playing for a Maseru-based outfit. How did you manage to juggle between the two districts?

Mokalanyane: It wasn’t that tough because I only went to Maseru on match days and trained with our school team here so I still managed.

SE: How long did you play for United who I am told were one of the country’s top teams?

Mokalanyane: For so long that I can’t even tell. That was one of the things that never sat well with my family because since we are from Maseru, I was supposed to play for Matlama as the city’s big team but I followed a different route and joined their rivals. You can just imagine!

After completing my high school, I went to the National University of Lesotho (NUL) around 1973.

SE: So you now joined the NUL team, Rovers?

Mokalanyane: Yes. I played for Rovers but at the time, they were not playing in any league so things were much easier for me. Every time we had a league match with United, I would be available for selection and at the time, I was already playing for the national team and had been doing so when I was still doing Form B.

SE: Did you win any trophies with United?

Mokalanyane: Of course; if I am not mistaken, we won the league title three times because I remember we played international games in what is now known as the CAF Champions League. Our first league title was in 1972.

SE: I hear you also played for Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa…

Mokalonyane: Oh yes; that was when I was still with United. I think it was around 1977. I went there with the likes of Waka Waka Likoebe and Dingane Mefane. We played with the likes of Ace Ntsoelengoe, Teenage Dladla, Maria Lamola and Tiki Khoza.

I remember Tiki refusing to give Dingane his jersey saying he can’t sit on the bench while a boy from Lesotho was playing. They were competing for the same position.

SE: How long did you stay with Chiefs?

Mokalanyane: Not that long because I was still at NUL so I had to travel from here to their matches every weekend. It wasn’t easy. Kaizer Motaung even suggested that I get a transfer from NUL to the North University but I refused to go so things didn’t work out.

SE: That must have been an awesome experience…

Mokalanyane: {laughs} It was, but things were not easy that side. I remember this other match when we were playing Orlando Pirates. It was actually my debut match, and my teammate, Abednigo ‘Shaka’ Ngobo, was coming with the ball. He had just beaten a defender and there I was, unmarked and facing the goal. You know when the guy was supposed to pass me the ball to me, he turned back because he didn’t want me to score especially in my first match. That’s how cruel football was those days.

SE: So when did you join Matlama?

Mokalanyane: For the last three seasons of my career, I think, because I remember I joined Matlama after United had been suspended by the football authorities.

SE: What then happened?

Mokalanyane: I was working for the Lesotho Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) at the time, so I was leaving for school in England. That’s why I quit the club.

SE: Were you still playing football on your return?

Mokalanyane: No; I was no longer playing although I was still passionate about the game. I think I simply had a lot on my plate that I completely left the game and focused on my job.

SE: So when did you return to sport?

Mokalanyane: In 2004, when I was appointed the first Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) chief executive officer by the then president, Thabo Makakole. He asked me to join LeFA because I was with BP Garage at the time.

SE: How long did you stay in the job?

Mokalanyane: I worked there until 2007 when I came here to the LSRC as chief executive officer.

SE: As a former player, what can you say about the level of football in this country?

Mokalanyane: There is so much to say concerning the issue but what I can tell you is during our days, football was taken seriously not only by administrators but also us, the players. We made sure we gave supporters what they expected, which was entertainment.

But looking at the players we have right now, it is difficult to get that kind of excitement and the unfortunate part is football has become more of a business these days than entertainment.

SE: Do you think the fact some teams are paying players could be the root of the problem?

Mokalanyane: No, don’t get me wrong. It is a good thing that teams are paying players. That is good for our football but the passion and dedication from the players is what is lacking.

Back then, we used to play just for entertainment and stadiums would be filled to capacity. We understood why we were playing like I have said and we always wanted to give 100 percent each time we ran onto the pitch. But now, you will find players more concerned about money while on the other hand, they don’t want to work hard. Stadiums are hardly filled these days but I am glad that the situation is slowly improving.

Again, luckily, back then, we didn’t have too many destructive things like now where there are too many forms of entertainment.

SE: So what should be done to improve our game?

Mokalanyane: We need proper planning if we are to get positive results. Firstly, we need to up the standard of our premier league. If there is competition, then the football will improve

But the biggest part needs to be played by the government. Sport is nothing without money and it is about time that our government changes the way they see sport in this country. Sport must now be included in top priority programmes.

Policies need to be drawn that will make the corporate world invest in sports not only football but sport in general. We need good infrastructure and facilities that can help the various associations to run their projects.

There should also be clear development structures from our football motherbody, as well as  continuity in their national teams.

You see the under-20 team that went to the 2005 African Youth Championships in Benin? I was LeFA CEO at the time and I made sure we had continuity in our teams, from under-15, under-17 to under-20. We kept that crop of players and they qualified for the first time for such a big tournament. Changing and chopping of players doesn’t help us at all.

SE: You mentioned something about the government and sponsors…don’t you, as LSRC, have some influence in seeing such things happen?

Mokalanyane: It is really tough but we are trying. In fact, we are in the process of doing that and hopefully, things will change. Let’s just say maybe after five years, things might change because the truth is this has been happening for a long time and to change that will not happen overnight.

National teams are carrying the flags of the countries they are representing, which is why government should make sure they get all the support they need but it hasn’t been the case in this country.

SE: Other countries have been improving in sport while Lesotho is still down there. What does that say to you as an administrator?

Mokalanyane: That is very sad. We have been fighting to make sure things improve but this has not happened and as administrators, we end up looking as if we are not doing anything about it, which is very painful.

SE: Back to your playing days…were there any defenders who used to give you a headache?

Mokalanyane: Yes; that must be Matlama defender Dingane. That gentleman would kick you from the first whistle but you know what? I learned how to protect myself and things changed. He was now the one afraid of me and that was the time I switched from number 10 to the left wing.

SE: Any funny moments you would like to share with us?

Mokalanyane: I think that will have to be our international match against the Red Devils of Zambia in Zambia. A few minutes before kickoff, while doing our warm-up, some kids of about 10 years of age came to watch us as we were doing our thing. Then they started pointing their fingers at us, asking if we were players. In our team, we had very short players, the likes of Mpaola.

And when the match started, those guys were very strong and fast and they only had four touches and the ball was in our 18-yard box but luckily they didn’t score.

After 25 minutes, Mpaole, who was our defender, was so tired he walked off the pitch but our manager, Ntate Mthembu ordered him back in but 10 minutes later, he was out again and this time, he left the pitch on the opposite side so that he did not come close to coach who would have ordered him back again.

SE: What should we expect from you going forward?

Mokalanyane: I am left with two years on my term here, so I still have time to see how best I can contribute to improve our sport.

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