Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Mochudi Rovers rise from the dead, get promoted to First Division

It was in 1963 when the late Bakgatla Paramount Chief, Kgosi Linchwe II formed Rovers. Back then, the club attracted some of the finest players from Mochudi. At the time, Rovers competed for bragging rights with the likes of Big XV, Mochudi Buffaloes and Mochudi Brothers United. In 1971, Rovers suffered a major split which resulted in some of their players going on to form Mochudi Centre Chiefs. But the club managed to sustain themselves time and again producing very good players. After standing the test of time, Rovers suffered a major blow when they were relegated from the National First Division in 1984. Some of the players who wore the Rovers’ jersey before crossing floors to Chiefs included; goalkeeper Skep Madisa, Edwin ‘Hlabankane’ Masire, Richard ‘3-Litre’ Kwapa and Mothusi ‘Killer’ Koitsiwe.

Since then Rovers’ performance declined until they ended up in the lower divisions. It was in 2008, when a group of men once again came together with a mission of taking Rovers to the top.

Led by chairman Owen Rapoo, a three-year plan was put in place to take the team to the First Division South and eventually the Premier League. But their plan was disrupted when once again in 2010 – the old bad luck came back to haunt them. A breakaway club, Mochudi United was formed. “That meant we had to start from scratch again because almost our best starting eleven was taken away. It was not an easy time for us but we had to be strong because we were a very ambitious group. We identified some of the talented youngsters from Molefi (Senior Secondary School) and other junior schools to build a team,” said Rapoo.

He pointed out that every year they set themselves a target of getting out of the Kgatleng Division One. “Even though it was not easy, every season we could see a lot of improvement. We built on what we had though there were major financial challenges along the way. At the end of the past season we achieved our dream of winning our division. That meant we had to focus on the play-offs. When we finally managed to gain promotion to the First Division South, it was a huge achievement. I’m proud that after a lot of persistence, we are there now,” he continued.

Rapoo said it was through the effort of lots of stakeholders that they managed to be in the First Division. “We owe a big thank you to Nutri-Feeds Botswana who supported us financially especially during the Play-Offs. They ensured that all was in place and we would like to extend our gratitude to them. We hope that they will be with us in this journey since we started together. Elders and former players also deserve a mention because they inspired all of us to be where we are,” he said.

Rovers’ head coach Thatayaone Tebele shared the same sentiments with his chairman that their journey was not easy but it took a lot of planning to achieve their mission. “When the season kicked off, there was only one thing in our mind- that is winning promotion to the First Division. In the past we used to miss by a whisker but this time we were more determined. I even got more inspired after I heard the history of the club at the beginning of this year,” he said. As they take a journey into the unknown territory, Tebele emphasised the need to improve certain areas with experienced players. He said there is no need to make wholesome changes but reinforcements are needed.

“We need to find at least two strikers with First Division experience. Matches are won by goals hence the need. We’re also lacking in the middle of the park,” he said.

The club’s captain Thabang Mosu is proud that he has played a big role in reviving the fortunes of Rovers. When Rovers were relegated in 1984, Thabang was a one-year old toddler and for him to have contributed to their rise makes him the happiest young man on earth. “We’ve been told about the history of this club and it feels like a new beginning. In the years to come we’ll be able to say we contributed towards the new beginnings. Every player at the club is happy and what is left is for us to ensure that the name of this massive club lives on. I must say that former players like (Mothusi) Killer Koitsiwe helped a lot in motivating us. He was always there for us and on behalf of the players, I would like to thank him,” said the 32 year-old skipper.

For his part, Mothusi ‘Killer’ Koitsiwe said that May 17 will always remain on his mind. He said he could not hold his tears considering that it was 31 years ago that Rovers got dumped from Botswana’s elite league. “I’ve been part of this club, my journey as a footballer started here. I’m happy that Rovers are now back in the limelight and I see a lot of potential there.

All what is needed is to keep them focused and ensure that in the first season the team doesn’t relegate,” said Koitsiwe. Former goalkeeper Skep Madisa paid tribute to all those who have ensured that Rovers regain their First Division status after years in the doldrums. “Some of us have long ran away from the club but it took the efforts of the players, coaches and officials to bring the club back. They deserve a lot of credit because I know it was not easy. I may have contributed financially towards their quest for promotion but it is not more important than those who have been there for long. They fought day and night to ensure that they gain promotion. We’ll continue supporting them in their campaign next season,” said Madisa.

A founding member of the club, John ‘Toto’ Masire could not hide his excitement that the ‘Old Lady’ is back in the First Division. “I was there when that club was formed by the late Kgosi Linchwe. I even played as a centre-back for the club for many years and commanded a huge respect from my opponents. I’m happy that they’re back and will rally behind them in the coming season,” said Masire.

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