Once the envy of other Premier League clubs, Mochudi Centre Chiefs was indeed a dominant force. Having enjoyed a decade a total control and football monopoly, the Kgatleng giants are now moving into wilderness, observes Staff Writer MOSIMANEGAPE TSHOSWANE.
It could have never come to this moment. That moment when Mochudi Centre Chiefs’ fight for survival is further complicated by arch rivals Township Rollers. A club they battled long and hard to conquer football power. But on Wednesday afternoon, Chiefs fell into relegation zone for the second time this season. This has instantly fuelled fears that the team might not survive this time around. Fate is no longer within their hands. They are no longer in control of their own destiny.
The sordid football story of the Kgatleng giants is that—history, no matter how colourful and glorious, does win you important matches. This is a club that has gone through all phases of football metamorphosis. They were once relegated in 1994, won the first division championship in 1995 to play Super League (now Botswana Premier League) again in 1996.
In 2007-08, the club won the league undefeated, a new standing record set by the Botswana club. In the following year, they refused to let it go when Mike Sithole‘s Gaborone United clinched the title on the very last game. Chiefs finished the race second. Indeed they had established themselves as the overriding force of Botswana football behind Township Rollers.
In 2011-12 season, still nobody came close to them. They won another premier title. Under the influence of hard-nosed negotiator Ernest Molome, the team bossed everything that came ahead. They had adopted a mercenary belief that success literally has a price. Any other good player had to play for this side. That is why it was easy for them to defend the cup in the subsequent season. The unprecedented trend of dominance stretched on the 2014-15 and 15-16 season. The Kgatleng giants won another back to back title championship.
But ever since the departure of club financer, Sayeed Jamali, the club literally crumbled down. Club chairman Raymond Tsheko rightly put it down, “Every time when this club relegates, it is because there is clear lack of financial support, it happened in 1994.” The club has collected 22 points from 28 league games and by Wednesday that harm by Township Rollers ensured that the team seat uncomfortably in relegation quagmire.
But who would have imagined that during the year of its near 50th anniversary, Chiefs would barely be ruling, but rather sit on the brink of being forgotten and relegated to the scrap heap of football history? Who would have imagined that someday, while its peers such as Township Rollers and Orapa United would boast appearances in CAF Champions League football stages and continue to be among the top clubs in local football? The once Kgatleng outfit that used to play neat football would resemble an old, faded beauty queen who has become the useful tool of young men who want to test their virility?
In a different time, this was unthinkable, an unimaginable impossibility, for this was no ordinary club. This is a club that once assembled top players like Pontsho Moloi, Dirang Moloi, Jerome Ramatlhakwane, Jomo Moatlhaping and Joel Mogorosi under one unit. Centre chiefs was not just a football club, but also a way life. There are many memorable moments and a therapeutic package of flair and skill that brought so much joy, pride and an escape from the harsh realities of life just to watch this team. To many, including even from the opposition rank, Chiefs brought spark to Botswana football. This is a club that unified the often troublesome villages of Kgatleng- Mochudi, Rasesa, Bokaa and Morwa.
Their followers will always sing powerful and melodies songs at the stands. Has the time arrived for the club faithful supporters to rise and shine, and as chips are down, belt out a song urging on Kgosi Lenchwe to rescue Magosi. But on Wednesday 1st of May, the day they fell into relegation, when Rollers’ Tumisang Orebonye ran rampant, the supporters could be heard enjoying one last moment, singing as they usually do. But was it for the last time? The answer lies within two remaining games: Sankoyo Bush Bucks and Gaborone United.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) arbitration tribunal is set to hear a case in which Molepolole City Stars is challenging the 2019-20 football season curtailment that led to their untimely relegation. The season was abruptly ended amid the ravaging COVID-19 scourge when the government decided to place the whole country under lockdown.
In particular, City Stars, under Somerset Gobuiwang, challenges the rationale and fairness of the association to end the league when there were several options to pursue. The club does not want to contest the authority of the national executive committee to stop the league but argues that the decision to relegate them based on the log standing was unfair, irrational and unreasonable.
Moreover, the decision was against the spirit of the game and not the most appropriate one under circumstances where they were still about 10 league games to play. As the papers were submitted, City Stars argues that the most appropriate step would have been to suspend the league and protect the league standing. “The league would then resume when it was safe to do so, as indeed it is happening now, with the log standings maintained as they were,” the court papers read.
The team, which was languishing at the bottom of the table when the decision was taken, also argues and gives an alternative that the league could have ended without relegation issues. City Stars argues, “This would be in recognition of the undeniable facts that the league was not complete and that the log standings at the time were not in any way an indicator of how they would have been had the league been allowed to run its course.”
Furthermore, Molepolole City Stars are livid that the association did not consider that the complainant had valid contracts with its staff and players and that such agreement could not be terminated abruptly. On the one hand, BFA said it was looking at three options before ending the league. Facts and scenarios informed each decision, and one was independent of the other, it was argued.
The first option, BFA says, was to stop the league where it was and crown the team that occupied the first place, which was Jwaneng Galaxy. Furthermore, three teams lying at the bottom of the table would be relegated, and teams on pole positions from Debswana First Division north and south will be promoted automatically.
By all accounts, the association felt it was a controversial option to undertake but also fairer for the sake of progress. The second available possibility was to stretch the season and consequently change the football calendar. “There has been a shelved proposal that recommends the change of our season from the usual August-May calendar to February – November because of health reasons,” BFA president MacLean Letshwiti said before making the decision.
The last possibility was to nullify all the leagues. This was — and continued to be — the last resort. Across all the global leagues, the domestic campaign had only 10 matches left, which could, in theory, be completed in the space of five weeks. In the end, BFA feels that a decision had to be made for the sake of progress. The dates of the hearing are yet to be made public.
Pontsho Moloi’s character and football standing as a young coach have embodied simplicity and hard work for far too long. Moloi is a local bred coach who has so far threatened foreign gaffers with his coaching philosophy, a style that is exciting and irking football purists in equal measure.
As Moloi is famously known in football circles, Piro has coached a few different clubs in the homeland, but his stewardship of Gaborone United last season — going into the new one- remains his best memorable achievement ever. Before the 2019-20 season was stopped because of the COVID-19 outbreak, GU was one of the league’s favourites.
But as any self-respecting purveyor of sporting cliché knows, it is never a bad idea to keep quiet and let your football do the talking. The only hanging problem for Piro is that he has often wanted to let his talking do the talking — which is a shame since, by and large, his football, both as a player and coach, has spoken loudly enough.
Piro’s coaching resume is fascinating and worth the test for a coach whose career is barely two years old. He has presided over big guns, one staggeringly good debut top-flight campaign, one freewheeling title charge, and one dramatic league season. Yet throughout, he has continued to serve as a punch line, painted by a substantial cohort.
Now, three games into the current season, his Gaborone United side sit at the top of the pile, having won all their games and remarkably keeping a clean sheet. No team has scored more goals than Piro’s side. Is Botswana football finally ready to recognize Piro as an elite-level coach? In fact, why has it not done so already?
The answer is not straightforward, regardless of what some of his harsher detractors would want to believe, although it is true that he has often failed to do himself any favours when a microphone has been aimed his way. In today’s culture, it only takes one slip of the tongue — one tiny sound bite lacking in self-awareness — to make you look silly.
Piro’s model has worked across the board: promotion-chasing minnow, sleeping giant, trophy-hovering Goliath figure, and now an aspirational upper-middleweight.
In each instance, he has found a new gear, improved his team beyond expectation and created a side better than the sum of its parts, at least for a time. Young and veteran players excel under his watch. Attackers — especially hard-running and bloodthirsty centre-forwards, Thatayaone Kgamanyane — flourish like never before. And for once, he has needed big money to make significant progress. Yet even at United, the least tangibly successful of his last three jobs and one where things went downhill towards the end, he put together sensationally exciting teams.
Now at GU, pundits still ask whether he will last longer at the top or he will soon fall. His demonstrations this season speak volumes about winning a bigger and better trophy this season. Can he deliver, or time will tell? Part of the answer will come as the season wears on.
Football giants Township Rollers and Gaborone United have emerged as early favourites to win the newly refined Botswana Football League (BFL), following a perfect start to the season.
There is a sense of relief from different quarters that this new football season, still striving to secure a title sponsor, is set to be packed with more excitement and action than anticipated. Seasons’ never-ending transfer rumour mill, coupled with half-paced friendlies, have their place in football, but they were indeed only going to be a tasty little snack before the sumptuous banquet, which is a new season.
Each team has played three games. At the time of going to print, Gaborone United, driven by local gaffers Innocent Morapedi and Pontso Moloi, remains in pole position with 9 points, maintaining an unbeaten record. The club also holds another record as only to club yet to concede. Also, on pole position is Township Rollers, who remain of the favourites to clinch the title come season end.
Languishing at the bottom of the log is Extension Gunners. The Lobatse based outfit have already pressed panic buttons by sacking their coach. It is still early days, but it appears The Peleng Boys, as they are affectionately called, are suffering early relegation season syndrome. They have played three games and are still struggling to find a win, let alone finding the back of the net.
Big guns like Orapa United and Jwaneng Galaxy have tried to bolster their squads but have failed to stamp authority in their first three encounters. Galaxy look set to be a better team, but two registered wins and a loss may as well betray this standing belief. Orapa, on the other hand, has grouped experienced players in their camp. Die-hard followers hope that this may be a fruitful season, but a midweek loss against Police XI in their backyard leaves followers questioning the readiness of their technical team as the season gets hot.
Township Rollers are breathing heavily on Gaborone United backs. The two teams now becoming rivals are equal on points, but much of the scrutiny is on GU, whose defence might be critical to this year’s championship. The need for news and views — not to mention wins in Lobatse and Francistown or wherever will once again become the all-consuming passion in many football lovers’ lives. Some had reason to be happier than most. That is why Sua Flamingoes and Masitaoka are ecstatic for their first 2021 victories.
A logical decree is that the Premier League’s usual suspects will have it all their way again. Talent galore and bottomless pockets of cash were enough to ensure yet more silverware ends up in already crammed trophy cabinets. The cream, as they say, always tends to rise to the top. Week 1 of this first half-season was the most interesting one. Eighteen goals were scored, and Thatayaone Kgamanyane of GU became the first player to score a Premier League goal this season.
Premier League Chief Executive Officer Solomon Ramochothwane believes this will be the most competitive season of recent seasons. “It is tight and competitive, and we might have a new champion at the end,” he opined. He also expressed happiness that numbers will grow at the stadiums as time goes on. But beyond the shadow of a doubt, the return of Premier League fourth round — as remarkable as the first three laps — will signal several months of nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat tension.