Maseru- Souru Phatšoane could have been just like any of his peers now doing the streets of Tšenola and Motimposo under different gang clans that have captured many youths in the area. It was, however, his love for the beautiful game that saw him get a start and show his potential in a refereeing career as a volunteer during the schools’ games held at the Lesotho High School grounds in 2008.
Phatšoane, 33, was a 20-year old who just went to watch the games at the time, and he ended up volunteering as an assistant referee because of the shortage of referees in those years. He did so well in those particular games and was sooner invited to do his first refereeing course with the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) in the following year. Phatšoane’s potential in refereeing at a high level was spotted by some of the international match assessors’ instructors who came to Lesotho to instruct a course held in 2011.
He was spotted officiating in a Soccer Spectacular match between Majantja and the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) FC in Mohale’s Hoek. “I was still a young boy at time. I think I was only 23 years old,” Phatsoane reminisces. “Fortunately for me was that those match assessors’ instructors went to assess the match I was officiating between Majantja and LDF in Mohale’s Hoek were all from outside the country and they wanted to know how old I was, and after that they recommended that I should be appointed to officiate at an international level.
That’s how my name was included in an international refereeing panel. I started officiating at an international level when I was 24 years old, and at the time referees who got appointments for international games used to be 25 years old upwards.” Phatšoane has never looked back ever since, and what has followed has been good results game after game. “I made the decision in 2012 after I was given a badge. I still remember that we were about eight referees together with some of the administrators and I told them that I would retire from refereeing at 35 if I would still be just an average referee.
I told them that at the end of every year I should be officiating in games of high magnitude and they said I am saying so because I am still young.” Phatšoane further says: “I told them it’s not because of being young, but said if there are people who officiate at the AFCON tournament and the finals why should I not be part of them because they didn’t just wake up officiating at that level but that I think it was because they worked hard.” He of course realized that for him to become a successful assistant referee he would need to work very hard.
Phatšoane is now one of the best assistant referees in the African continent. He officiated in the just-ended Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament which was held in Cameroon, where he went to officiate in the final between Senegal and Egypt alongside South African referees, Victor Gomes and Zakhele Siwela. Few days after the AFCON final, Phatšoane officiated in a Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League match between South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns and Al-Hilal of Sudan.
Phatšoane made his AFCON debut in 2017 where he officiated up until the last 16 with a between Ghana and Tunisia which ended in penalty shout-outs, with Tunisia emerging the winners. The 2017 AFOCN tournament was held in Egypt. “The Ghana-Tunisia match was the last game of the last 16. It was my first time officiating at that level and the message I got was that ‘we have brought you here to assess you and have surprised us. So go home very proud because you have done a good job’.” He went on to officiate in the Olympic Games held in Tokyo, Japan in 2018 and in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup which was held in Brazil in 2019.
He also reached the last 16 of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Brazil. His secret is dedication and hard work. He says he makes use of every opportunity he gets. “I make use of every officiating chance I get. I work hard as if it is my last match to officiate,” he says, adding that his main target is to officiate in the FIFA World Cup for the senior national teams.
The upcoming World FIFA World Cup has been scheduled to take place in Qatar from November 21 to 18 December. “Going to the World Cup is a dream of every country and everybody, and so it’s my dream too. Therefore, it will not be a miracle if I will make it to the World Cup this time around and I am ready. I have a friend who is also a referee who after I became an international referee told me that I should not relax but keep on preparing myself because I may be called anytime, and of course that’s exactly what is happening with me.
I may get an email just now telling me that I should rush to a certain country to officiate in a certain match and that I would get everything on the way. This is what is happening.” He keeps always on the alert and working hard at training in order to keep his body in a shape as he has realized that his body can be thick in no time. “Because my body can be thick in no time, I should keep on training more than anybody else.”
Diet is also very important for Phatšoane. He minds what he eats every time. “For me diet is very important. For example, you if go away for a game which will take place on Friday and you are supposed to leave on Tuesday, it means you would be eating food that you are not used to on your way to the game, during the game, and on your way back home. So you must be very careful what you eat because if you make a mistake you may end up eating food that you don’t need and that may result in you gaining body weight.”
Phatšoane, therefore, says a referee should avoid being overweight at all costs. “I mean you have your weight and fatness specifically measured for you, and which should be good and not poor during a check-up ahead of any international match. If you are overweight, they will tell you to reduce the weight and the same thing applies if you are weight is below par. They will tell you to improve your weight.” Phatšoane also emphasizes the need to avoid sustaining injuries at all costs. He says he should make sure that he doesn’t hurt, especially his angles when he is training or officiating, something which he says happens time and again in refereeing owing to the pace of the game.
“Injuries will always hit you, especially because you turn anytime. Every time when a player turns I should also turn and that happens very quickly. So you will always sustain angle injuries, like it or not. That’s why you need to avoid such injuries if you can and make sure that you go for a medical check-up at least once in a year, especially in January to check if your heart still beats well, amongst other things.”
In fact, Phatšoane says this is a must for every referee to go for check-ups. Born and groomed in Tšenola, Maseru, Phatšoane comes from the family which loves football more than anything. He grew up playing football even though he did not play at the highest level. “I come from a family who loves football very much. I even played football while I was still very young, playing for the under-12 and under-15.”
Phatšoane after that helped young children in his village, Tšenola, to start a junior football team to which he became administrator. That team is currently campaigning in the A-Division and is now called ACE Maseru. “That was in 2006 and that team still exists. It is now called ACE Maseru.” He did his primary education at Motimposo Primary School and from there went to Peka High School and Maseru High School for his Cambridge Overseas School Certificate; and from there enrolled at the Lesotho College of Education (LCE), and he is a teacher by profession.
But he says he had never got hired as a teacher, rather than having had piece jobs for teaching. “Yes, I am a teacher but I am currently jobless. I did work as a teacher before but I was not hired. I was doing piece jobs.” He is married to ’Mamolemo Phatšoane and they have one child, Tlhonolofatso. Phatšoane is the last born of three siblings of the late ‘Masouru and Phatšoane Phatšoane. The Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) and its resident Salemane Phafane, on Monday this week awarded Phatšoane for a good refereeing in the just-ended AFCON Tournament in an occasion which was held at the Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena in Maseru.