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They called him Frisco in his heyday


…and many still call former Likuena playmaker Tseliso Khomari –now communications PS—by that name

Basotho are increasingly finding it difficult to sign with foreign football clubs, yet this was not the case in the past when local players were part of the South African league. One player who cemented his place in Lesotho’s hall of football fame is Tseliso ‘Frisco’ Khomari—a utility player who plied his trade with Bloemfontein Celtic in the 1980s, as well as other South African sides such as Hungry Lions and Reitfontein Mine.  Back home, Frisco played for Matlama, armyside PMU, Maseru United and would also be occasionally picked by Bantu for the Top Mount tournament.

After stints as Rovers coach before he became Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) secretary general and then vice-president, Khomari (61) is now Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology, and takes Sunday Express (SE) reporter Moorosi Tsiane, down memory lane.

SE: It is exactly two decades since you stopped playing football competitively but you still look quite fresh. What could be your secret?

Khomari: {laughs} You know, I was always disciplined especially off the pitch.Playing football really helped me as a person because it kept me off the streets so I never had time to either smoke or abuse alcohol. I think that’s one of the reasons I am still strong despite hanging up my boots in 1986. Some of my agemates even struggle to use the stairs to come to my office, but for me, it’s no problem {laughs}.

SE: Those who were around to watch you in action say you had a unique style of play, which was such a joy to watch as it was quite entertaining. Did you ever feel different from the other players and how long did you play football?

Khomari: We are always going to look at things differently. Some people believe I was one of the most gifted players of my generation, but deep down, I know there were far much more better footballers than me at the time, such as Buti Buti who I would watch in training and then try to copy his skills when I was alone. All in all, I was more of a hard worker when the other players were just talented.

SE: How did the nickname Frisco come about?

Khomari: I was given this name at a very young age; I think I was around eight or so and doing my primary studies at Iketsetseng. There was this commercial on Lesedi FM, which was then called Radio Bantu. The advert was all about a coffee called Frisco and went like “hauna le baeti u batla hob a phomosetsa ba fe frisco” which simply translated into ‘if you have visitors and you want them to relax, give them Frisco!

So I used to say that when playing, like when dribbling past my opponents I would be saying ‘I am serving you with Frisco’. And all of a sudden, I became Frisco and that is how I have been referred to in football circles ever since. Believe me when I tell you that even here at work, I am still called by that name.

I remember some other time in the Senate when we were given some certificates then when my name was called, the name Frisco was on the certificate. That was when I realised it had become my real name to some people and I had to live with it. I know anyone who calls me by that name really knows me.

SE: You are one of those fortunate locals who played in the South African league. How was the experience compared to back home?

Khomari: When I arrived in South Africa, the country was still banned from international football. The teams were only playing their local league. Remember that was the time of the likes of Kaizer Chiefs owner Kaizer Motaung, Nelson Teenage Botsotso Dladla, and Chippa Moloi. I mean, those are just some of the talented players I played with.

Coming to your question, well since they were only playing locally while by then, I had  played for our national side against the likes of Zambia, we were more or less at the same level. They had never played international football but the talent they had was just amazing. I still respect Teenage even today.

SE: Do you have any special memories from your playing days you would want to share with us?

Khomari: Eh…I cannot remember the exact year but I was playing for Maseru United at the time. We were playing an international match against one team from Zambia, and those days,  Zambia were a real football powerhouse.

We were already a goal down and with about 10 minutes to the final whistle, we were desperately in need of a goal and every one was hoping I could produce some magic. I took the ball down the right wing and two or three meters from the penalty box, I saw a defender coming and I noticed that he was going to close me down and it was going to be hard for me to score. I immediately hit the ball on the run and the goalkeeper tried to parry the ball away but it was too hard for him to handle and it rolled into the net. The crowd just went crazy after that goal as the match was being played here in Lesotho, and the match ended 1-1.  I still remember that match like it happened yesterday.

The other match which I won’t forget was when I was playing for Matlama against yet  another team from Zambia in Zambia. Age was catching up with me now because I remember I was  then used more frequently as a defender than a striker. Since I was a striker, I was wearing the number 9 jersey. Unfortunately, 15 minutes into the match, one of our players was red-carded. As if the red card was not enough, one of the best defenders ever produced in this country, the late Dingane Mmefane, pulled a muscle then I had to drop and play as a centre-back, playing against two of the best strikers in the SADC region then the duo of Alex Chola and Peter Kaumba. Those guys were just a deadly combination and were nominated for the African Player of the Year award. By the way, our coach was Ntate Monaheng Monyane

SE: It appears you had a busy afternoon that day…

Khomari: I produced one of my best performances ever that day, giving cover to our full backs. My performance was just there at the top. I won the hearts of the Zambians that day, although we lost the match 1-0. However, everyone in the stand near our goal, was chanting my number. But I was so tired I couldn’t breathe, let alone walk, soon after the match.

SE: Back then some teams were notorious for using muti. Have you ever been in a team that believed in using it?

Khomari: {laughs} It is true that muti was used back then when going to matches and I remember when playing for School Boys against Matlama. It was one of the biggest matches back then, a Maseru derby.

On the eve of the match, we were taken to some traditional doctor where we were made to jump over some smoke of something that I did not know. After that, we were given very strict instructions that we should not look back as we left that house but the funny thing is that we lost the match… {laughs hard at the memory}.

SE: You have really had a great football journey as a player and you ended up in administration. Are we going to see you back in football in the near future?

Khomari: Well, I would love to return some time; there is still more that needs to be done when it comes to our game and I think I owe the football fraternity that much.

When it comes to development, we are still far from other countries. Let me tell you something; during my playing days, we never lost to the likes of Botswana and Swaziland but now our standard has deteriorated badly and we have become the whipping boys of the continent. This has gone to the extent that I decided to stop watching local football. It has been about four or five years now since I stopped.

It is a shame that even today, LeFA does not have a strategic development plan and we can’t have clear development structures without it. So how will we monitor our work if we do not have some guidelines?

The other worrying factor is we do not have facilities and the few that we have are also being sacrificed for business space. We used to have too many grounds back in my day and it was easy for children to find a place where they could play and again back then every team was bound to have two junior teams (Bafana) and they would travel with the senior team all the time and play before the big match. This helped the juniors a lot because that was where talent was groomed. But now, you will find our children playing on the streets, on tarred roads and they end up losing interest and start getting involved in things that are not good for their wellbeing at all.

SE: What else do you think needs to be done?

Khomari: LeFA also needs to call an indaba, call all those people they think can help come up with a strategic plan for the development of our football.

SE: Finally, you are counted among the Kingdom’s football legends. But do you feel like one?

Khomari: To be honest with you, in this country, and not only in football, I think our heroes are not given the respect they deserve. And in football, it’s even worse, it’s such a disgrace because it’s only a few who are still recognised while the rest are ignored. Just go to matches, then you will understand what I am talking about. I think that is one of the reasons former players no longer bother themselves going to matches, where they end up feeling humiliated.

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