Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Rollers: The undisputed kings of Botswana football

There are those who feel that Rollers should not have taken five years to win the league championship. Rollers’ supporters especially, believe that the Mighty Blues, as they call it, should win a major cup at least every three years.

But the fact is, by winning the 2009/10 be-MOBILE Championship, Rollers have cemented themselves as the undisputed kings of Botswana football. They won the league for a record ten times. Rollers won it in 1979, ‘80, ‘82,’83,’84,’85, ‘87, ‘95 and 2005, before clinching it again this season.
In 2005, Rollers won both the league championship and the Coca-Cola tournament.

After winning the league in 1995, it took Rollers ten years to win it again. But, at that time, Rollers were super outfit in the Coca-Cola Cup. They won the Coca-Col Cup in 1993, 1994 and 1996. At the same time, they continued to maintain a respectable position in the league, and they often lost the title race in the last few matches. The Rollers teams of the early 1990s were the most popular, and are still admired by many to this date.

Almost all the team’s departments were very strong at the time. In the period 1992-1996, Rollers had famous players like Thabo Motang, Moshoeshoe ‘Triger’ Molelekwa, Hiso ‘Bone Crusher’ Sebina, Aron ‘Route 4′ Radira, Desmond Molefhe, Keitumetse “Pio’ Paul, Biki Motubudi, Mmoni ‘States’ Segopolo, Mokwadi ‘KK’ Mokgwathi, and the late Joseph ‘Big Joe’ Chikoti. Of all these, it was the late Chikoti who was most admired by the team’s supporters and feared the most by Rollers opponents, mainly because of his goal scoring prowess. Chikoti scored in almost every match that Rollers played. Surprisingly though, he lacked pace.

But his lack of pace was complemented by his strike partner, States Segopolo, who was very fast and could score from long range.

Rollers also had the explosive Desmond Molefhe on the left wing, while Pio Paul operated from the right. The rollers team was a solid machine that operated as one; it is no wonder that Chikoti dominated the local soccer scene for almost three years. Chikoti was a key player in all the years that Rollers won the Coca-Cola Cup.

The most memorable Coca Cola final was in 1993 finals when Rollers locked horns with blood rivals, Gaborone United. In that year, GU had defeated Rollers on several occasions and they expected to easily do the same in the Coca-Cola Cup.

It was not to be as Rollers hammered GU 4-1. Rollers scored first via Desmond Molefhe, but the lead was cancelled by the towering Patrick Zibochwa. Segopolo then increased the tally from long range following a throw in by Biki Motubudi.

As Rollers piled more pressure on GU, the Moyagoleele defense, made up of the likes of Gofhamodimo ‘City’Senne, Listen Kealotswe and Rapelang ‘Razor’ Tsatsilebe, had no choice but to bring down Chikoti inside the box, after he dribbled past them and was left with only goalkeeper Koziba Masukula to beat. Molefhe did not have any difficulty in converting the penalty, before Rollers scored the fourth goal towards the end. In 1995, Rollers won the league with only two losses from BDF XI and Police.

This year, they have four matches left, and they have lost only two.
The wheels started to come off a bit from Rollers in 1996 when stalwart Chikoti left for South African Premier League side Witts University. Since then the team went through a bad spell and never won any major tournament. At the same time, almost all the excellent players left Rollers, as others retired while others joined other teams.

Then came new and inexperienced players like Tshephiso Molwantwa, Phineas Maimela and Moemedi ‘Jomo Moatlhaping. Rollers ended up being relegated to the First Division to follow another big team, Gaborone United. That was also the period when institutional teams ruled the roost and took most good players from community teams.

That time teams like BDF XI, Tasc and Mogoditshane Fighters won almost everything on offer but the unfortunate thing is that they do not command too much support and there was actually no electrifying atmosphere at the matches.

Rollers had to rebuild from scratch and the players that guided them were Segopolo and Molwantwa. Segopolo even switched positions, from striker to defender.

Segopolo’s guidance nearly paid off as they reached the finals of the Coca-Cola Cup in 2003 only to be beaten by a solitary goal by Mogoditshane Fighters. In 2004, the team made a comeback to the elite league and they made history by winning both the league and the Coca-Cola Cup. Rollers ended up playing in African competitions and that drained them as they struggled domestically and had to wait for 2010 to win the league championship again.

One reason Rollers won the league is because they found someone of Chikoti’s caliber in the form of Terrence Mandaza. So far he has scored 31 goals and that is because he has never had a shortage of ball supply.

Mandaza is aided by the likes of Edwin Moalosi, who has been outstanding almost the whole of this season. At the back, they have excellent goalkeeper, Kabelo Dambe, who is following in the footsteps of Motang.

In the heart of defence, there is Itayi Gwandu who reminds us of Radira, mainly because of his height and no-nonsense tackles. Rollers are likely to lose Mandaza to another South African Premier team and that could take Rollers back to the drawing board and look for another striker, which will not be easy.

Rollers also did not rush to fire their coach, Rahman Gumbo, after he failed to deliver last season. History has shown that the longer Rollers keeps the coaches the more success it achieves. It was the case with Freddie Mwila and the late Edwin Kanyantta in the 90s. Gumbo is reported to have won the league championships in countries such as Malawi and his native Zimbabwe.

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