Thu. Jun 20th, 2019

Football runs in Kepa’s veins

NTHAKO MAJORO

Makobo Kepa, better known as KB in football circles, has always been a keen footballer from the day she was able to walk unaided.

As a young girl growing up in the rural village of Ha Rankhelepe on the outskirts of Maseru, KB kicked a soccer ball with boys instead playing with girls her age.

Both her parents are enthusiastic sport lovers who instilled the love of sport in their two children.

Her mother, ’Malethola, is a former netballer while her father Kepa is an avid follower of football, although he never really played himself.

Her elder brother Tseko played football but at a lower level.

When KB, 32, started playing football in the 1990s, she was the only girl in Ha Rankhelepe to take that bold step.

“I began playing football when I was at Rankhelepe Primary School.

“Women football was not popular in those years and practically did not exist in my village and surrounding areas. But because football is in my blood, I always kicked the ball with boys at school during play-time (break) and later after school with other boys from the village.”

After she completed primary school, she came to Maseru in 2000 and enrolled at St Catherine’s High School.

St Catherine’s a girls’ school does not offer all sporting activities.

Over the years, the diminutive player has played for, among other clubs, Arsenal Ladies, Maseru Celtic, South Africa’s Vosloo All Stars Ladies, Rovers Ladies and Kick4Life Ladies.

Today she is the assistant coach of the national Under-20 women’s team, an appointment she got a fortnight ago.

At the same time, she is contemplating to hang up her soccer boots, because she feels she has done her part.

When she was a learner at St Catherine’s she stayed in Moshoeshoe II with her uncle Molefi Mosenye.

Because her brother knew how much she loved football, he bought her a soccer ball to keep her playing.

She was forced to play football alone in the yard until she found the courage to join a male club in the neighbourhood.

Her unquenchable passion for football saw her joining Arsenal ladies’ team later that year.

“I was encouraged to the team by my uncle’s neighbour, Ntate Thabang Khiba. The team practiced at Maseru Club. Ntate Khiba provided me with all the essential playing gear. He did not accompany me to Maseru Club and I was a bit nervous but upon my arrival, I was warmly welcomed by the team’s senior players, Liabo (surname forgotten) and ’Maliengoane Tṡolo.”

Because the two senior players somehow had difficulty pronouncing Kepa’s name they nicknamed her KB and the name has stuck to date.

Most of the players who were in the team and those who joined later were much older than KB, hence the coach Trevor Makhanya sent her to practice with the younger boys’ team.

“When I joined the boys’ team, I played barefooted because there were no soccer boots among the items Ntate Khiba provided.

“Coach Makhanya suggested that like the young boys in his team, I wore socks and do not play barefooted.”

A month later the Arsenal Ladies went to play in Thaba Tseka and KB was debuted in the match.

“It was the first match I played with other girls and of course I felt a great difference. After that I became used to playing with and against other girls.

“In December that year, I played my first international tournament in Swaziland where teams from Lesotho and Zimbabwe had been invited,” she recalls.

KB later made it into the national ladies; squad Mehalalitoe and is one of the players who served the longest in the team.

She played against the current Swaziland assistant coach during inter-varsity games when she was still a student at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). She also played against the Swaziland national coach when Mehalalitoe faced the Swazi national women’s team.

Due to lack of financial assistance, Arsenal Ladies changed management and ended up being under People’s Choice FM and changed their name to FC Khutsa.

But FC Khutsa did not stand the test of time. Another ladies team that practiced at Maseru Club was Maseru Celtic.

But the problem was at the time there was no women’s football league like there is now.

The ladies’ teams that were there only competed in the form of district leagues.

In 2005, Maseru Celtic competed in a tournament in Springs, South Africa where, among others, they played against Moroka Swallows ladies.

The following year KB and three other teammates were invited to join Vosloo All Stars of Springs, South Africa.

In the end, only KB and ’Maseeiso Mphubelu managed to join All Stars.

The former Lesotho Sport and Recreation Commission (LSRC) chief executive officer, Kholoang Mokalanyane helped facilitate the move.

“We did not go to trials, instead we were immediately registered with SAFA (South African Football Association) and shortly thereafter I played regularly for All Stars. The team finished as runners up at the end of that season in the female provincial league,” she says.

At the end of that season she came back home but never returned to South Africa.

“I didn’t go back because the team failed to keep its word. I came back home and enrolled at NUL and my intention was to go back to South Africa when I graduated.”

After she graduated in 2012, she was no longer interested in returning to South Africa.

During her stay in Roma, she played for Rovers Ladies and she left the team in 2014 when she joined Kick4Life Ladies. During the same time, she worked as sports reporter for Public Eye Sesotho sister newspaper, Mosotho.

“I chose Kick4Life because I liked their style of play, the team manager, ’Makatleho Pitso also used to joke that I would join Kick4Life whether I liked it or not, adding that I would retire from there,” she recalls with a smile.

Besides, KB already knew most in the team, hence she did not feel out of place.

She joined a strong club and added value to them and before long, she was made the captain of the team.

Talking about adding value, Kepa was later made the team’s captain. Kick4Life have, however, never won the league title since 2015 when the Women Super League was formed.

On three occasions, the side ended the league as runners up except in the last season when they dropped to third position.

“I still fail to understand how we never won the league given we have always been a formidable club. Our plan, however, is to come back in the next season stronger and ready to win the next league title.”

KB started doing national service in Mehalalitoe in 2006 but always missed the COSAFA Cup actions due to school commitments.

“I did not play for the junior national teams because of school commitments. But I was called up early for Mehalalitoe.

“But I could not play in COSAFA tournaments because they always clashed with my school calendar.

She, however, eventually got a chance to play in the COSAFA tournament in 2011 in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Mehalalitoe lost their first game 4-0 against hosts.

KB describes the 4-0 beating Mehalalitoe suffered at the hands of hosts as their best loss ever in those years.

“To us that was a huge achievement because we had never lost with such a small margin before.

“In spite of the loss we celebrated and took the hiding positively.”

KB did not finish the game as she was substituted because of stomach cramps.

“Later when I watched the rest of the game from the bench, I picked up a lot of positive things that came in handy at another time.

“I was able to see one of my favourite local female players Boitumelo Rabale in action. Today she is an international player. Although, the team was hard pressed, she managed to control the game with unbelievable brilliance and maturity.”

Rabale is currently plying trade in the USA where she is both studying and playing international football.

Before relocating to America, she proved her prowess at the Bloemfontein Celtic Ladies where he won the league with the team twice as the captain.

She also won several individual accolades in the RSA female football league, the Sasol League.

During her playing days, KB was one of the best female midfielders in Lesotho.

“We always had many good midfielders and I never dreamt about a Mehalalitoe call up until it actually occurred,” she says.

KB is likely not to play competitively in the next season. “I think it is time I hanged my soccer boots though my mind is not yet made,” she says.

KB has some coaching certificates under her belt like the FIFA Grassroots Coaching Certificate which she obtained in 2016, the Level 1 of the Lesotho Football Association, CAF C Licence and Instructors certificate for beginners which she obtained in Cameroon.

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