Football is dead: legend

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MASERU — Edwin Tšiu is forthright, sturdy and fearless.

But then those aren’t surprising qualities of a man who terrorised defences throughout a glorious, but sadly forgotten, career that spanned 15 years.

A fierce forward — firstly for Qacha’s Liphakoe and then famously for Matlama — Tšiu is a footballing immortal.

As part of a team that, on a cold autumn day 37 years ago became Lesotho’s first ever national side, the name Edwin “Scara” Tšiu will forever be engraved in Lesotho’s history books.  

The game itself, a 1974 World Cup qualifier against Zambia on April 30 1972, ended in a 1-1 draw at Setsoto Stadium.

“It was so cold that day,” Tšiu recalls. “I had never felt anything like it, (but) the match was of a high standard . . . we had a proper team.”

The return leg in Lusaka two weeks later ended in defeat, but for Tšiu memories of that “family” still glow.

“This name of Likuena is a new thing,” Tšiu says.

“I don’t know Likuena. I never played for Likuena, we were Basotho,” he adds bullishly.

The debilitating effects of age have slowly diminished the bull in the 64-year-old, but the passion within still beats as stoutly as ever.

“You see that picture,” Tšiu says, pointing to a portrait of him in Matlama splendour. “You would never believe that’s me.

 “You don’t see our players like that these days, you rarely find them.

“Players today are not fit.”

“They check the training schedule — as soon as they see that there is physical training involved they dodge,” he laughs.

Tšiu’s views on Lesotho football, Matlama in particular, echo passion and hurt in equal measure.

After retiring in 1980, Tšiu coached Matlama and Lioli in the eighties.

These days he runs the Scara Tšiu Youth Development Football Club.

“People these days just don’t love football. It’s not like in our days,” Tšiu says ruefully.

“I rarely go to matches anymore because it hurts me to see what has happened to our football.

“Matlama are worse . . . this is not the Matlama I knew and loved.”

Indeed, in the just-ended Premier League season Matlama not only missed out on the title but suffered the indignity of finishing outside the top four. 

“I started playing in 1965 for Liphakoe while I was still at Masitisa High School,” Tšiu beams.

“Then in 1966 Matlama came to me.

“At that time the (major) teams were Linare and Matlama.

“Lioli and Majantja we also there, but LDF came much later.”

Tšiu was a vital cog in Matlama’s 1974, 77 and 78 championship teams.

However, harping on about past glories is not what Tšiu wishes to do.

The current state of affairs is too grave, too alien to what he once knew.

Lesotho’s senior team is floundering, his beloved Matlama is “worse”.

Tšiu is a concerned man.

“The coach (Zavisa Milosavljevic) needs to be helped,” he says.

“He was supposed to have been given the old players that have retired, that have played international games as advisors.

“Not that we want be the coaches, but to assist. They (retired players) should be employed out of respect for what they have achieved.

“It is true that they have experience, we cannot deny that.

“And when you have people like those, you have to put them close by.”

He adds: “This (Likuena) is not a team — they have not even won a match.

“Swaziland and Botswana were never a match for us; they were write-offs, but things have changed.”

But where are Lesotho’s football legends? Is it not fair to conclude that they aren’t interested in the state of football?

“People will say that they are lost. This it is not true, it’s just that they have not been taken care of,” Tšiu says.

“There are so many around, in Leribe, in Maseru, Mafeteng, Majantja — they are there.

“We want to join and help out but there is a barrier there.

“I’m not here to talk bad about other people, but this is the reality.

“In other countries teams are run by mature people, but our football has discarded its retired players.”

Whereas men Tšiu once shared the field with — like Kaizer Motaung, Jomo Sono and Screamer Tshabalala — have helped shape football in neighbouring South Africa, in Lesotho it’s very different.

“Today Pele is considered something huge in his country and that is down to the people of that country,” Tšiu says.

“It’s the same with our neighbours (South Africa).

“But right now there is no one who knows if I’m alive or dead. We meet accidentally at funerals.

“There is a lack of respect. That passage of traditions has completely died and there is no discipline.”

“Mocholene (Matlama coach Ntebele Taole) has many good players there (at Matlama), but they lack discipline,” he adds.

“The supporters of Matlama also have to make sure that they don’t get into the affairs of the team.

“Matlama now has groups and factions. That’s why they are not playing well.

“The biggest problem is discipline. And this discipline thing, when you talk about it, it’s something strange to them.

“When you have taken the choice to be a footballer you have to sacrifice.

“The standard now is low — if you’re a coach you have to teach these players how to control the ball or how to trap.

“That is something that they have to do in their own time.”

And 29 years after his retirement, Lesotho’s football remains a mostly amateur, social affair.

“This is pathetic,” Tšiu says with disappointment. “This is wrong because things are changing.

“We have to turn professionals too. Whether it is R5 or R10 (player salaries), we have to start somewhere. We are too late.

“These are things the country in general should have been able to provide a long time ago.

“For instance, if you go to LEFA you won’t find any records from the past. There are greater players than me, players who played before me, they are unknown,” Tšiu laments.

“Right now a bright future for our football is not there.

“We have great talent but there is a serious problem in organisation at the top.

“Players have forgotten what it means to play football. The only team now is Lioli.”

Despite his misgivings about the status quo — and Maseru’s chilly winter breeze — Tšiu remains ablaze with memories of a magnificent career.

“I remember we were playing Mauritius (Africa Cup of Nations qualifier), we had to win the game and the scores were level,” he recalls.

“And we had been given a penalty so we gathered as the senior members of the team to discuss who was going to take it.

“In the meantime ‘Frisco’ (Senator Tšeliso Khomari) was loitering around . . . he was one those rebellious players . . . we didn’t take notice of him.

“All of a sudden he just ran up and kicked the penalty over the bar.

“We were amazed and upset because we failed to qualify.”

He adds, with a chuckle: “It might be funny now but it wasn’t funny then.”

Well, even the greatest fail at least once.

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