Sunday, July 3, 2022

Mathe: a new star is born at Mapalastina

Gaborone giants, Township Rollers, have a history of producing the finest goalkeepers in the country who thrill spectators with their spectacular saves and bravery during games.

Some of these goalkeepers have gone on to represent Botswana at international level and did a fantastic job. From the days of the late Sam Sono, late Otto Otukile, City Manyelela and Thabo Motang, Mapalastina used to have trust that even when the chips were down, their goalkeepers would come to their rescue.

In recent times, Lesego Moeng and Kabelo Dambe have also come to the club and did a fantastic job thus helping the Mighty Blues to win some silverware. At the beginning of August this year when news filtered through that Dambe would be moving to Platinum Stars in the South African Premier League, some Rollers’ supporters wondered who would fill the void left by the talented goalkeeper who ensured that his club wins two consecutive league titles.

Mampule Masule showed some signs of brilliance when he was given a chance in the previous season when Dambe was out. Who would forget the game against city rivals Gaborone United at UB Stadium where Masule played his heart out? That performance alone could have given Rollers’ die-hards some hope when Dambe’s replacement was not found.

In the opening six games in which Masule started, the Kasane-born goalkeeper failed to stamp his authority, leaving Rollers’ supporters without any choice but to ask for changes. While the transfer window has long been closed, it meant that Rollers’ technical team had no choice but to call on 19-year-old Bobby Mathe to the rescue. The youngster had little experience as far as Premier League is concerned.

He tasted topflight football while he was on loan at Uniao Flamengo Santos in the previous season but that was not enough in the minds of some pundits. His debut for Rollers came against Motlakase at Molepolole Sports Stadium early last month a game which ended in a 2-2 draw. There were signs that Mathe was lacking in confidence and one wondered if it was worth it to throw him into the deep end.

In the next game against Santos, which Rollers lost 2-1, Mathe showed a lot of improvement and saved his club from total humiliation at the hands of the marauding Santos.

Next on the line on November 17 was the game against Rollers’ fiercest rivals, Mochudi Centre Chiefs. It was a game in which Rollers needed to do well and boast their confidence.

The job of their Zimbabwean gaffer Darlington Dodo was also on the line if Rollers had lost the game. Played before a packed Molepolole Stadium, many people predicted that Chiefs would humiliate their opponents and capitalize on their weak goalkeeping department. Little did they know that the young Mathe had come prepared for the encounter. It was his brilliant saves which kept Mapalastina in the game and earned them a valuable point in the end.

The game marked his introduction to big time football and showed that with time he would become one of the most sought after goalkeepers in Botswana. Last weekend at Lobatse Sports Stadium, Mathe once again performed beyond expectations to help his side to an unexpected 5-1 mauling of Extension Gunners.
Despite his recent heroics, Mathe remains humble and claims that he has done nothing special except to try help Rollers come out of the precarious position they are in.
“It has always been my dream to play at this level and I’m glad that my time has come. I want to believe that I’ve done well in the games I’ve featured in and I can only improve with time,” said the Botswana Accountancy College student.

It is the game against Chiefs in which Mathe feels he did his best thanks to his technical crew.
“I was a bit nervous against Chiefs but my coaches helped me to calm down. The coaches told me to treat Chiefs like any other side and I’m glad that I did just that. It is (big) games against the likes of Chiefs which help to grow a player’s confidence,” added Mathe.

Unfortunately for him, his mentor and mother, Kegoditswe Nicki Mathe, is no longer there to give him encouragement. His mother, who would have celebrated her 44th birthday on November 30, died earlier this year and Bobby has promised to play every game in her honour.

“She was everything to me and she would have loved to see me playing at this level. I know she is watching me wherever she is. It is the most painful thing not to have her around but I take that as a motivation,” an emotional Bobby said on Friday morning. The young goalkeeper paid tribute to his goalkeeper trainer Thabo Motang for his latest rise. He said that Motang has been more like a father-figure and always encourages him to up his game.

“I don’t really know how I should thank him (Motang). He is one person I can learn a lot from because he has seen it all in this game. If I remain humble and listen to him, I have no doubt that I can even go to play outside Botswana because it’s my dream,” Bobby added.

For his part, Motang said that he is grateful to work with the youngster because he is always willing to learn. Motang added that having a well-mannered and grounded goalkeeper like Mathe makes his job easier when it comes to coaching.

“He’s focused in his game and I always encourage him to remain like he is now. I have no doubt that he will make a great goalkeeper, more so that he has been an understudy to Noah (Maposa) at Chiefs and Chenjerai (Dube) at Santos. It is his time to rise and be counted amongst the best goalkeepers,” continued Motang.

Outside the field, Motang pointed out that he always tries to talk to the young goalkeeper about the challenges of life, especially that he has lost both his parents. Without doubt, in Mathe, Rollers have a gem which needs to be taken care of. But like they always say, the ball is in Mathe’s court to prove to the football fraternity that he is a great goalkeeper.


Read this week's paper