One of the best football players I’ve ever watched, in the flesh or on the telly, is Mochini Matete. A short, stocky, fast, dribbling and left-footed goal-scorer, Mochini played left wing for Matlama FC, the capital’s team. The only thing he probably couldn’t do was score with his head. I’ve never seen him get a red card. Today he must be nearing fifty and the world never saw him play! Not at the Africa Nations Cup, which is being contested in Tunisia at this very moment, nor at the World Cup. Mochini has never made it to either event. It is a shame for football enthusiasts and the sport is that much poorer for it. And what’s more, it was hardly Mochini’s fault.
When I first saw Maradona I was instantly reminded of Mochini: left foot, speed, height, weight, dribbling, scoring. I decided, however, that Maradona was more efficient, whereas Mochini was a more elegant player, more entertaining, at least. More than Maradona? Yes, I think so. But that’s only my opinion. I last saw Mochini bewitching a football stadium in the late seventies, shortly before my family and I were forced into exile by the government of Leabua Jonathan.
The difference then, I calculated, must lie in the degree of efficiency. Mochini was efficient, and boy, was he. But Lesotho sports and European sports are not held against the same standards. European and other pro players have not played football in years. They’ve been working football, if you will. They go to football work everyday, spend the day working football, and go home to their families in the evening. They work at the stadium or at the gymnasium. Mochini and other African players go to work everyday, spend the day working, and go to football practice in the evening before going home to their families. They played football. Otherwise they were police officers, post-carriers, taxi-drivers, teachers, job-seekers, and any other occupation you can think of. They did their bacon-earning 9-5 then went to play after work. That would mean something like 9-5 for work, 6-8 for football, as opposed to the timetable for pro players.
That would also mean that motivation, incentive, is vastly different between job-holders and players, as well as training facilities and muscle mass and stamina and equipment and number of minutes in contact with a ball, and qualifications and number of training staff, and a host of other insignificant little details that do make a difference, nonetheless. These were different. Then there is talent, non-bought, nurtured, gained through loving something. You should have seen Mochini play.
As a kid growing up in Lesotho I was a Matlama FC fan. But I was also a staunch supporter of the South African Kaizer Chiefs, whose star players had names like Teenage, Wagga-wagga, and Ace. I met the latter years later in Toronto when he was playing for the Blizzards there, and I felt extremely priviledged. Somehow Kaizer Chiefs was superior to Matlama, and could kick any Lesotho team’s booty like that. I could safely be fan to both of them, as a result, because in my mind they were galaxies apart. The Chiefs were up there somewhere and Matlama were right here, on earth. I loved the latter dearly, but everybody just knew–the two teams were not in the same league. Full stop. Full stop?
Two or three times a year we would all huddle around a radio set and listen to a Premier League Final or English championship or other crucial match. And of course most of us supported some English team. I was a Liverpool fan. Don’t ask me why. For some reason I just liked Keegan and Dalglish and the whole team and those screwy jerseys they used to wear. And I inadvertently knew, as did everyone else, that Liverpool could beat Kaizer Chiefs. I mean, the thought of them playing against each other had never crossed my mind and had no chance of ever crossing my mind except in my wildest fantasies, for Liverpool were higher still, and so could lick the Chiefs just like that, and the Chiefs could lick Matlama just like that!
Every four years the football world celebrates its favourite sport by holding the World Cup and having a wild time. Every four years we would huddle around that same radio set and listen to the exploits of the biggest teams on the planet. All of us could easily rattle off the names of players on our favourite teams: Socrates, Junior, Zico, Bebeto, Romario, and even before, PÃ©lÃ©, Garrincha, Jairzinho. The trend in importance was Brazil, then the Chiefs, then Matlama. Kids today might even add an African powerhouse between their international favourite and their South African favourite.
B r a z i l
L i v e r p o o l
C a m e r o o n
C h i e f s
My warped football world. I wonder if I did not base everything else on that scale. International is better–local isn’t good. The Inverted Pyramid Syndrome. I know that I wasn’t the only one, and I know that this syndrome wasn’t reserved to football. It permeated our society from clothes to foods to sport to skin colour. And, sadly, it had not started with my generation, but with the colonialism fighting generation. While these folks were engaged in negotiations or conflict with the English for independence, they were also trying to dress like them, talk like them, and eat like them, most of them to this day. Some were using skin lotion to lighten their skin. I don’t blame them–it was the order of the day, and one had to swim or sink, right? But I wish they’d stop it, today, and dress African and talk like Africans and champion our African ways.
The Inverted Pyramid Syndrome is a scourge that must be fought, just like poverty and hunger and AIDS and corruption and discrimination. And doing so, in my view, would be keeping in line with the National Vision, the promise made to the Basotho people by the Lesotho governement, part of whose rationale states that
- collective energy, collective focus and collective endeavour will always enhance chances of real progress;
- every successful nation has a rallying point, a common factor, a unifying, inspiring theme;
- we are faced with a simple choice between keeping abreast with civilisation and progress on the one hand or embracing decadence, stagnation and regression on the other;
- also, we have to make a deliberate choice between survival or extinction as a nation.
Keeping abreast with civilisation and progress on the one hand or embracing decadence, stagnation and regression on the other. I’d like to say that in the way I would have written it, if I may. “Keeping abreast with technical developments and progress on the one hand, while observing and respecting our traditional ways and treasures on the other.” It stands to reason. Why? Because technical advances are not civilisation per se, and because if we forget who we are then decadence and stagnation set in, we are in imitation of another, we aren’t producing anymore, we’ve become barren. And that’s when we start trying to rediscover ourselves, when we shouldn’t have hidden ourselves in the first place. The Inverted Pyramid Syndrome is a deadly ill indeed.
NB: When I first wrote and posted this I was very much happy our country, Lesotho, was at last democratic, and I was trying to place my energy in helping the government better our lives. That was ten years ago.