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Emotional exit for Likhopo

Business

…as team is relegated from the premier league after over 20 years

Chris Theko

One of the top football clubs, FC Likhopo which has been competing in the topflight soccer league for over two decades has reached end of the road for premier league contesting following Wednesday’s 0-2 loss to Lijabatho in Morija. 

Likhopo sits in an awkward position second from the bottom of the 16-team log table with 19 points with one game to go to the close of the current season. 

This means that the Maseru based outfit’s best possible tally is 22 but that is not enough to see them reach the team above them which is Swallows that despite their 1-3 loss to LDF on Wednesday are currently on 23 points with a game to go. 

Having spent over 20 years in the premier league, Likhopo will bow out of premier league football for the first time since being promoted in 2000, since when, the team affectionately known as the ‘Red Army’ has been one of the favourite and very competitive sides having won the Premier League twice in 2004/5 and 2005/6. 

The 2006 season was one of the team’s best seasons as it also won the Top-4 and Top-8 tournaments over and above the league.   

The team was founded in 1995 by the late soccer maestro Bishop Molatoli who passed away in 2014. Molatoli had turned the Red Army into a force to reckon with, hub of talent and development for football stars who would later go on to represent Lesotho in international competitions. 

Bokang Mothoana, Tlali Maile, Thapelo Tale, Lerata TÅ¡along, Phoka Matete, Ralekoti Mokhahlane, Tumelo Khutlang Mokone Marabe, Lehlomela Ramabele, Sepiriti Malefane and Thapelo Tale are but a fraction of the great names to come out of the Red Army ranks whose star has shone bright as they have gone on to don the national colours to serve national duty. 

The writing has been on the wall on the side’s eminent ouster as in recent times the side has been a constant feature at the bottom of the log. During the current season, the side only managed to win 3 games, drew in 10 and lost 14 times which is their worst performing season ever. 

In an interview with Newsday Sports, a clearly heavy-laden Likhopo coach Halemakale Mahlaha said they would conclude the remaining game as best as they can. Mahlaha could not come to terms with fact that the team is really going to be playing in the lower ranks from next season, saying that “…it is the very first time that I experience something like this in my coaching career. 

“Our intention is still to win a game since we have not won a game in a very long time which is why we are here, but there is still one more game to go and hopefully we wrap up this season with a win. There were a number of challenges this season but I have learned a lot with this team which I am glad I got the experience of leading. Most people have been asking why I had not jumped ship when I saw that it was sinking, however, I felt I needed to gain experience which I did”. 

Meanwhile, weighing-in on the team’s fate, Mazenod Swallows coach Teele NtÅ¡onyana expressed his sadness over the relegation of Likhopo saying this says a lot about the current state and future of football in the country since the team was a haven for football development. 

“It hurts a lot to some of us that Likhopo has been relegated because for the longest time it was the hub for football development in the country as you may know, most of the players who have featured in the national teams from the under 17 came well developed from the club. 

“So it says the development structures have collapsed that is why Likhopo is where it is now and the other thing is that the team’s founder and visionary Bishop is gone, so probably the people left behind do not understand his vision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that most teams have failed to produce the kind of talent that Likhopo managed to produce over the years but have only been buying.

Likhopo will face the Top-4 place-chasers, Lioli at the Teyateyaneng ground on Sunday in their last game where they hope to bow out with a bang.   

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