Most local soccer players lack one of the key attributes required for one to succeed in sports, loyalty. They are primarily interested in money, fame and quick returns. Most players rarely play for one team for a period exceeding three seasons, while others change teams almost every season.
Only a fraction of the local players are really committed to the teams that they play for, and they stick with their clubs regardless of circumstances. One such player is the recently departed Joseph Phetogo, GU’s stalwart defender. The 29-year-old died tragically on Christmas Eve and left a long lasting legacy at his team and in Botswana football.
Phetogo passed on just nine days after his birthday.
That Big Joe’s career spans more than a decade is unbelievable in the current football era, and is proof of his tenacity and resilience. He is also one of the few players who saw it all in football. He joined GU when it was on a downward spiral, but that did not deter him from staying loyal to the club.
He stuck with GU when it was relegated to the dusty First Division league in 2000, and his resolve was never faltered by the lucrative offers that came his way from other high flying teams. His mission was simple, to help GU bounce back to the elite league.
“Phetogo was undoubtedly the most disciplined player in the premier league. He always heeded advice, and other players unconsciously deferred to him, such that he was always the de-facto leader of the team. He was the most exemplary, the most loyal and the most committed player,” said former team manager, Keemenao Tsie.
“Imagine a player of Phetogo’s caliber playing in the lower division for five years, despite the fact that his skills were in demand from other teams in the elite league. His loyalty to GU was unshaken. He was definitely a rare player, and it is sad that he left us when he still had so much more to do,” she added.
GU’s first division campaign however would, contrary to expectations, prove to be a very tall order. The team spent five years in the lower division before eventually bouncing back to the elite ranks. Four of the five years that GU spent in the first division proved to be very difficult for Big Joe as he was inundated with crippling injuries that threatened to end his career. He spent months on the sidelines, but was never deterred.
“Big Joe was unfortunately prone to injuries. Had he been any other player, he would have quit soccer a long time back. But he was a true soldier who wanted to achieve something out of football. He always bounced back with a bang and led like a true captain,” said Tsie.
While in the First Division, Phetogo rarely played more than three matches without suffering from a knock. But his fortunes improved in the premier league as he rarely got injured.
“If I remember well, Phetogo suffered two minor injuries in the run up to our promotion. It was hard for us because he played a crucial role in the team and was a leader to the many youngsters who made the bulk of the team,” added Tsie.
GU eventually rose to glory in the past season as they outplayed all the premier league teams and won the P1 million beMobile prize money, making history as they were winning the league after an almost twenty-year hiatus.
Big Joe was an integral part of the team in the past season. He marshaled his team to glory and was eventually voted Player of the Season by a team of technical experts, in the process winning himself P50 000. GU was also counting on Phetogo to lead his team in the coming few weeks as they embark on the African Club Champions.
GU last took part in the competition more than 15 years ago. His death was undoubtedly a blow to the team’s morale, and might even affect their aspiration to defend the league.
It is bad that they have already had a very sloppy start, and it will be difficult for them to redouble their efforts and find their playing form without the leadership of Big Joe.
The African Club Champions’ competition is taxing and already the team has had to reinforce its squad. They face an insurmountable task in their first match as they will face South African giants, Orlando Pirates, who won the competition in 1995.
Tsie, however, told Sunday Standard that everything is being taken care of.
“Obviously Phetogo’s death has had effects on the players, but everything is under control. GU is led by a team of professionals who know what to do at a particular time,” he said.
But the fact remains that Big Joe was a key player in the GU squad. He was a true leader and a disciplined and dedicated player. He will be solely missed.
May his soul rest in peace.