When Gaborone United (GU) walk onto the National Stadium turf on April 25 for the prestigious Mascom Top 8 final, if there is one player they have to thank it would be their rising goalkeeper Goitseone ‘Chichima’ Phoko.┬áThe youngster’s fine form in between the sticks was evident when GU visited Nico United in the second leg which was played at the Selebi Phikwe Stadium last Sunday. Though he was overlooked for man of the match award, it was his bravery which ensured that the Reds book a place in the final against their nemesis Township Rollers.
GU outsmarted Nico United 1-0 thus earning the Reds 3-1 aggregate win. His timely saves from Joseph Musonda, Onkabetse Mankgatai and Khumoetsile Kufigwa in the first half were good enough to leave the hosts empty handed.┬áWhen referee Kutlwano Leso blew the final whistle, tv cameras showed the youngster lying on the turf with his hands covering his face.
“I’ve to admit that in that game I performed beyond my expectations. I went into that game with one thing in mind that is to help my team reach the cup final. It is something that we talked about when travelling to Phikwe and I’m grateful that we achieved our mission. It was not an easy match because Nico United threw everything at us but we absorbed the pressure,” said Phoko.
The Gabane-born youngster pointed out that he is excited by the prospect of playing his first ever cup final next month. His first final appearance would come eight months before his 20th birthday. “There is no doubt we’re going out there to win the cup final. Yes, it would be a very difficult outing against Township Rollers but we’ll give our best. Rollers have some of the finest players in the League but that does not mean we’ll let them run all over us. I would be happy if I win the goalkeeper of the tournament but helping my team win gold medal is my first priority,” Phoko added.
The youngster’s exploits this season has shocked many people considering that it is his first full campaign. He joined the Reds in 2011 from their development side after being spotted by the then head coach Major David Bright. At the time, he was fourth on the queue after experienced shot stoppers Noah Maposa, Kagiso Tshelametse and young Kenalemang Neo. “I was excited to join the first team but at the same time there was that fear of competing with the likes of Noah (Maposa) and Tshela (Metse). I knew I’ll never play as long as they are there because of their experience. At the same time I was prepared to learn from them if I wanted to become a better goalkeeper,” said the 19 year-old goalkeeper.
It took almost a year before Phoko could taste big time football. In December 2012, when GU hosted Extension Gunners at UB Stadium in a League game, it happened that Maposa was injured. Major Bright took a risky decision of fielding inexperienced Phoko much to the surprise of many including the officials. But Phoko performed well in the match to help his side to a 2-1 win over the Lobatse side.
“It was nice to play my first match but I had to wait another two years to play another game. But there is a saying that says patience pays. Right now I’m enjoying my game to the fullest. Whenever I go into the field I don’t want to disappoint those who have shown confidence in me,” Phoko pointed out.
The down-to-earth goalie has credited his trainer Thabo ‘Mahala’ Motang for bringing the best out of him. Though he was quick to point out that his former trainer Charles Mokwadi also played a role in his development, Phoko feels that it is Motang who has played a major role. “He (Motang) is a greater motivator and he pushes all the goalkeepers to perform to expectations. He always tells me that he has worked with great goalkeepers like (Modiri) Marumo and (Kabelo) Dambe and he wants to be on the same level with them. Ahead of each game, the coach (Motang) tells me that I’m the best and I must go out there to do the best for the team. When i’m on the field I always ensure that I don’t disappoint him and the club. I’m so humbled to work with him,” he said.
After his recent exploits, Phoko has been rewarded with a call-up to the national Under-23 and Zebras. He has promised to work hard in order to impress the technical team. “Getting a call-up from the national team goes to show that there is something right I’m doing. I’m looking forward to learn from the likes of Dambe who is playing at a higher level (for Platinum Stars in the South African Premier League). Though I’ve been performing well, I still feel that I’ve to learn a lot and fortunately age is still on my side,” he said.
GU secretary Herbert Letsebe told this publication that they are not surprised about the heroics of the youngster. “We’ve long known about his potential when he was still in our development side. In fact, it is Bright who went to the development side to watch and immediately promoted him. Since then he has been working hard in training. The good thing is that he is a humble boy who has a bright future ahead of him. He’s also benefiting from his goalkeeper coach who inspires him,” said Letsebe.