Gaborone clubs could be hard hit by Masitaoka’s promotion.
It has been a long time coming. The champagne shall however remain on ice for a few more weeks.
It is not a done deal yet. But Masitaoka Football Club have never been this close to the Promised Land.
The football club carries with them the hopes and dreams of more than 70,000 residents of the greater Molepolole area. At least four games separate Masitaoka FC from their maiden elite league appearance.
With three points (at the time of going to press) clear at the top of the Debswana First Division South log, the opportunity for promotion is theirs to lose. Following 53 years of languishing in lower Divisions the premier league is finally within reach.
After seeing off their closest rivals Mogoditshane Fighters by a goal to nil on hostile territory to open a five-point gap recently, the writing was almost on the wall.
But a fortnight later Mochudi Centre Chiefs FC would bring a contingent of Bakgatla supporters to the Bakwena capital and spoil the party.
The two First Division giants played to a stalemate in front of a capacity crowd at the Molepolole Sports Complex. A Mogoditshane Fighters victory on the other side reduced the gap back to three. But Masitaoka remain the favourite for automatic promotion to the Btc Premier League.
What would a Masitaoka FC promotion mean for top Gaborone football clubs?
As the local teams including Masitaoka, Tigers FC, etc. struggled for promotion to the then Super League, a great majority of Bakwena football lovers could no longer stick with their teams on the dusty lower division grounds. Super League teams were more exciting and playing under better conditions at the National Stadium. They attracted some of the best players in the country, poaching quality players from small teams like Masitaoka.
To be able to fit in, Masitaoka supporters had to align themselves with bigger, more successful clubs in the country. If they could not win the Super League, the Coca Cola Cup, and other big tournaments with Masitaoka, they had to win them vicariously through the most successful Gaborone based clubs being Gaborone United, Township Rollers, and Notwane Football Club.
Even Lobatse based Extension Gunners, with some of the best national team players, managed to attract a good fraction of Bakwena supporters.
Soon Masitaoka and Molepolole based clubs became a distant memory. Some were not lucky enough to survive. But Masitaoka soldiered on with the little support they enjoyed of a few loyal supporters.
The club had various generations of homemade talent that promised to lift them off the lower league divisions where they spent the majority of their time. Possibly their most promising generation of their Second Division struggles was that of the early to mid-nineties. The team boasted great players like Kitsiso ‘Stika’ Sebele, Lincoln Tabane, Polokakgolo ‘Blondie’ Mmopi, Noah ‘Stooge’ Kareng, Lucas More, Charles ‘Bhuda’ Manthe, Bashi Tornado Mookotsane, and Thomas Masifhi as club manager.
But promotion to the First Division somehow eluded them, only making it as far as the playoffs where there would be unsubstantiated stories of witchcraft and muti use by opponents.
Meanwhile the top Super League teams continued to enjoy support from thousands of Bakwena. But that may be about to change. They say identity is always tied to a place. Masitaoka’s recent performance has triggered a sense of belonging for their erstwhile supporters. The possibility of Premier League football has evoked nostalgic memories of the team they once pinned their hopes on. The prodigal ‘children’ have returned back home.
Masitaoka now enjoys a capacity crowd at every game. The once GU, Rollers, Notwane, Gunners supporters have now reconsidered their club memberships. Home is calling.
After gaining promotion to the First Division for the first time in 2005Masitaoka relegated back to Division almost a decade later in 2014.
It would take four years before lady lucksmiled on the club. They finally regained promotion back to the upper league First Division with the assistance of their sponsor Tswana Gas. The team acquired the First Division status of the defunct Tlokweng side Black Peril.
Now they look set to go another step further and achieve first ever promotion to the elusive premier league.
While Township Rollers spokesperson Bafana Pheto plays down the possible effect of Masitaoka’s promotion on their support base, the numbers at their Debswana First Division South games suggest otherwise.
“I don’t believe their promotion will have any significant impact on our fan base,” Pheto says. “We have had teams from Serowe, Ramotswa, Mmankgodi, and Maun being promoted to the premier league and that has never had any significant impact on our numbers.”
Masitaoka Public Relations Officer Godfrey Ratlhaga however sends a warning to the premier league clubs. “Our supporters are coming back home. We have seen countless new faces showing up at every game. We are going to fill up every stadium should we get promoted to the premier league.”
Ratlhaga says as soon as they wrap up the league they are going on a tour of Kweneng District to open branches and register members for the club.
“We are getting our supporters back.”
A win against Broadhurst United this weekend in Gaborone will move the Molepolole club a step closer to automatic promotion.
Masitaoka FC was founded the year after independence in 1967 by a then group of youngsters in: Keineetse Sebele, Regent Gaobotswe Golwelwang, Moses Sentibile Sechele, Eric lesang Motswasele, Ronald Mothibinyana Keletso, Joseph Mongalo, Andrew Magogwe, and Leitlho Luke.
They would soon be joined by village elders: Peter Mpisi, David Dlodlo, Lebogang Seboni, Abraham Kokorwe, Raymond Toto, Moses Motswakhumo, WP Koboyangaka, and Milton Dikgang the following year in 1968.
Kgosi Bonewamang Sechele, Lebiditswe Kgabung, John Lleo, Gert Tiro and Christopher Sekga also joined the team in or around 1972.
“We played in what was then Junior League alongside the likes of Extension Gunners, Mochudi Big 15, and Kanye Swallows among others,” says one of the founders Keineetse Sebele. At the time, Sebele says, there were only two divisions; the Junior League and the Super League. “There were no proper road networks then but we played teams as far a Serowe.” Sebele is one of the handful of founding members who maybe lucky enough to see their team finally playing in the top league.