SEROWE: These days, one of the village?s hottest talking points is the precarious position that the local football side, Miscellaneous, has languished in for the most part of the Med Rescue First Division (North) campaign.
The villagers curse, shake heads, and sigh heavily. The debates surrounding the team?s fate are heated.
Predictably, there is a lot of finger pointing.
The man a number of people blame for the team?s woes is Othusitse ?Chips? Kootswele ? the team?s former coach and one-time captain.
In turn, he dismisses the accusations.
?I have sacrificed a lot for Miscellaneous. In 1994, I was the team captain while Stan Mwaanga was the coach, helping the team gain promotion to the First Division,? said Kootswele. ?To suggest that I am now sabotaging the team is absurd.?
A long time stalwart, Kootswele has seen the team gain promotion, get relegated and return to the First Division in less than five years.
In 2001 and in his first full season as coach, Kootswele took Miscellaneous to the third spot on the log.
His assessment of the current problem is blunt.
?The management is weak. It backs off when the team needs it most,? he says.
He traces the problem to the death of Bernard ?Bull? Kgwaneng, whom he credits as a visionary leader.
?Bull wanted to see the team develop. He had a plan and he sacrificed a lot to see the team grow.?
The late Kgwaneng was not an ordinary man. He passionately loved the game and met his end with his boots on. He died in 2003 after complaining of not feeling well while playing social soccer at Serule.
He was rushed to Palapye where he was pronounced dead on arrival. His demise left a gaping void. And from the look of things, it will be some time before it is filled.
Kgwaneng?s business partner, Steady Setlhaba picked up the mettle.
Setlhaba recalls that in 1998, together with Kgwaneng, they requested permission from the community to run Miscellaneous for four years. The request was granted and the team improved tremendously. In 2004, he called a meeting to bequeath the team back to the community, and it was at that meeting that he was elected chairman.
But soon cracks started appearing in the wall. The elected committee abandoned the team.
He says this was the genesis of the team?s problems.
As the rest of the committee left, Setlhaba and Kootswele stood side-by-side. But the situation spiraled out of control.
There is a felling among some people that party politics is at the bottom of the current problems engulfing Miscellaneous Football Club.
?There is a feeling that Setlhaba was in (Kgotla) Autlwetse?s camp during the BDP primary elections and that when he took over the team, those in the other camp decided to abandon him, thereby deserting the team as well,? a close source says.
It is now a matter of public record that Kgotla Autlwetse contested the Botswana Democratic Party primary elections against Dikgakgamatso Seretse (the present Minister of Lands and Housing) in Serowe North East. Autlwetse won, but the party?s central committee ordered a re-run, and Seretse won the replay. It was a murky affair and the resulting feud polarised the village.
At one point the feud reached the courts, but it was clear Autlwetse did not enjoy the sympathy of the BDP high command in Serowe.
Kootswele is not equivocal about the role of politics in the current state of the team. His take is that there were times when ?the team traveled without any of the officials and that dampened the morale of players, leading to poor results.?
?This trend frustrated us. When we played Motlakase in Palapye we contemplated quitting right there, but instead we chose to see the season through,? Kootswele says.
He says together with Setlhaba, they would have been hurt had the team been relegated under their watch. But he adds that they were happy to hand it over to allow fresh minds to rescue the situation.
The handover is a highly disputed piece of history.
Some claim that Setlhaba and Kootswele withheld some of the team?s property and money.
Kootswele dismisses that as ?malicious talk?.
The retort comes from a man who insists that he spent a lot of his personal money on the team. And he is obviously angry that there is no appreciation for the sacrifice.
Setlhaba says everything was handed over to the new committee: boots, tracksuits, footballs as well as the 2004-2005 league prize money.
?Running a football team is expensive. I showed the new committee financial statements indicating how much I had spent on the team, but I did not ask them to reimburse me,? Setlhaba says, and goes on to suggest that to this day, he continues to assist the team whenever he can.
Kootswele reiterates that during the festive season, he took an active role in the team?s fund-raising initiative ? despite a niggling pain.
Meanwhile, on the field of play, the results showed no improvement.
Bakae Khumo (or BK, to the team?s community) replaced Kootswele as a coach.
BK had a tough time. Some players claim that when the season began, the team was not adequately prepared.
?Under BK, we spent a lot of time juggling the ball. We did not do endurance exercises necessary to sustain a league campaign. Other teams, who were much fitter, beat us easily, especially in the second half, when we would have run out of stamina,? one player says.
As the first round neared the end, help arrived from the teams? forgotten son ? Teenage Mpote, who had been with Tasc.
Mpote played for Miscellaneous from 1976 ? 1982, when the team campaigned in the old Second Division. He moved to White Diamonds in Orapa before joining the army and playing for Tasc.
The 1970s and early 1980s were Miscellaneous? golden years. This was the era in which it produced players who would graduate into the national team, players such as Mmoloki ?Zarra? Ramanoko (BDF XI), Otto Kabelo (Township Rollers and Gaborone United) ? sadly, both of them late, and, most recently, Patrick Matlhaba (now with Gabane Santos), Chamlek Botlhoko of BDF XI and Boitumelo ?Safe Hands? Kedisang of Gaborone United.
Setlhaba points to the fact that village teams, such as Miscellaneous, always find it hard to retain talent because of scarcity of jobs in the rural areas and thus have to depend on secondary school students who also fall for the romance and lure of towns and cities as soon as they complete their studies.
Setlhaba says he courted Mpote years back when he heard about his imminent retirement. He is delighted that Miscellaneous now has an experienced coach to guide them.
Mpote might have arrived at the team when his suitor had left, but Setlhaba insists that they have hit it off.
?He came to see me at the beginning of the season to request money to beef up the team, and I helped him,? Setlhaba says.
Miscellaneous has since signed nine players during the transfer window.
Mpote says when he played for Miscellaneous, it was one of the biggest teams in the country, and ?it pains to see it fighting relegation.?
When he retired from the army in October 2006, he had no hesitation in responding to the SOS call from the team?s emissaries. He hopes to reverse the teams? fortunes, and ? for now ? the main objective is to avoid relegation.
He has no illusions about the job and task ahead.
?It is going to be tough. The team is full of inexperienced players, and I intend to rebuild it by working on crucial positions such as keeper, sweeper, central midfielder and a good centre forward. That will provide leadership to others. But I?m optimistic that we will pull through,? he says.
Mpote arrived to see a team that was fast sliding down the log with each fixture. He is already hailed as a savior of sorts after an impressive start to the second round.
They have registered two victories, a draw, and a loss since action resumed after recess. The fans expect further improvement.
Early in January, Mpote talked about the gap between the coach and players as something he wanted to bridge.
?I have Premier League experience as a coach, but my players do not. We have to work together to reach a certain standard,? he said.
Setlhaba says the main focus now is to retain the team?s First Division status ? by all means necessary. He suggests that an interim committee be constituted to steer the boat past the rough waters. (FPN)