Footballers have generally been known to be rowdy characters yet that is not the case with Matlama defender, Lisema Lebokollane.
The stocky stopper is “too quiet” for someone who plays in that macho position, where he is always expected to be barking instructions at his teammates and giving bone-crunching tackles. Yet the 22-year-old still manages to get the job done in his special approach to life and the game, hence his call-up to the national squad currently preparing for the Cosafa tournament.
Born and bred in the tough neighbourhood of Sea Point in Maseru where the only thing that consistently made headlines in the early 90s was violence and crime, Lebokollane had few options but to get into sport if he was to avoid finding himself in trouble.
And like most Basotho, Lebokollane was forced to play football at a very young age because it was the only sport popular in the community.
He continued playing the game at Iketsetseng Private School and also Moshoeshoe II, where he completed his primary education.
At the same time, young Lisema would play the sport on the dusty streets of his neighbourhood until he decided to join a team called Hunters. Lebokollane later moved to his neighbourhood side called Matebele when he was at St James Anglican High School between 2007 to 2011.
“I was born and grew up here so you can understand how the environment was during those times when Sea Point was very famous but for all the wrong reasons. There was only one way to escape the crime, hence I decided to get involved in football more seriously than my friends, at the encouragement of my parents.
“You see, soccer has always been a popular sport in this country, so it was no surprise that I would seek refuge in the game,” he said.
Lebokollane further said although he admired his grandfather, who played for Matlama, he was equally inspired by Tse Putsoa veteran midfielder Pali Tšalong, Bantu striker Dlomo Monaphathi and goalkeeper Liteboho Mokhesi, as well as Mohapi ‘London’ Ntobo of Sundawana he grew-up watching play and staying with in the same neighbourhood.
“Football runs in my family, I must say, because I have been told that my late grandfather used to play for Matlama, and that he was also a defender. My father was also a player although he did not make it into the big teams, but still he was a good footballer from what I am told.
“But again, growing up in an area where London, Pali, Dlomo and Liteboho came from played a big part in my falling in love with football even more because I would watch them play and hope to be like them one day. And I must admit it feels like a dream that I am actually playing with them in the premier league,” said Lebokollane.
The hardworking Lebokollane said although playing for Matlama was “a dream come true”, he was even more humbled to get a Likuena call-up. The rock-solid defender added he would give his best when he eventually makes his national debut which he hopes would be at this month’s Cosafa tournament scheduled for South Africa.
Lebokollane, who joined Matlama ahead of the 2010/11 season as a midfielder before he was moved to centre-back, said it was not easy to cement a regular place in the country’s most successful team.
“Matlama are one of the biggest teams in our domestic league and have won nine league titles, which makes the club the most successful in Lesotho football. So it was never going to be easy to break into the first team because there are so many good players at Matlama at any given time. The other thing is I joined the team playing in midfield and had to adapt quickly to my new role at centre-back, where I was redeployed last season.”
According to Lebokollane, playing for a big team such as Matlama would always come with immense pressure.
“Pressure will always be there at Matlama because we have a huge support base and those fans always expect us to deliver.
“We have not had it easy of late; remember I joined the team after they had won the league title but we have failed to win the championship since, which is unfortunate for me and I think the supporters as well. This adds pressure to an already tense atmosphere because we want to do well for the supporters and we will continue working hard as a team, to bring silverware to the club.”
Lebokollane, who is an only child, said hard work and determination had made him the player he is today.
“Football has become big business of late so I believe it is also our responsibility as players to protect the brands we are in. Integrity, dignity and discipline on and off the field are key to the success of any player. Such respectable conduct can also help attract sponsors to the sport, which will then benefit us, the players.”
Lebokollane says he gets so much support from his family for which he is grateful.
According to Lebokollane, playing alongside household names like Nkau Lerotholi and Tšeliso Ramathe, had made him really proud of his development as a footballer.
With Matlama making it to two Cup finals in the just-ended season—the Top 4 and Top 8—and ending the campaign in fourth place, Lebokollane believes the team did well despite failing to win any silverware.
Asked what he thought of local football, Lebokollane said there had been so many positive developments over the years.
“There has been so much growth in our football because unlike in the past, some teams are now paying their players decent monthly allowances. That shows that we are heading in the right direction as a nation.”
However, Lebokollane said he was doing a course in motor mechanics, which he would want to make his profession.
“Like many local footballers, I also want to find myself playing in more developed leagues where my God-given talent can help me have a better life. But I am again learning motor mechanics as a fall-back plan should things not work out.”
Lebokollane said he was happy to be at Matlama and would not leave the club for any local club.
“Although we don’t get monthly allowances at Matlama, I am still happy to be here and being part of such a big institution. I have told myself that if I am to leave Matlama, it would be for a foreign club and not any local team.”
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