MASERU – Goal! Wait, no goal, offside.
That was Linare’s 2008/09 Buddie Premier League campaign – so close yet so far.
In fact that’s been Linare’s story for the past ten years; the club has failed to win any silverware since the turn of the century.
On the league front things are especially depressing. Since clinching the championship in 1980 (led by midfield captain Valdez Leleka, Mokhethi Molapo and Sele Leboela among others), the Leribe side have suffered a drought of biblical proportions.
Last season, despite being runners-up in both the MGC Supa 8 and Buddie Top 4 tournaments, Linare suffered the embarrassment of finishing outside the league’s top eight, landing at an unimpressive ninth-place.
This is all in stark contrast to the late 1970’s when Linare were much more than a lower mid-table team.
Instead they were a business, whose sole objective was to give pleasure to its masses. And back then they did have a huge support base; it wasn’t unusual for a dozen bus loads of fans from all over Leribe – waving green flags and breaking tree branches on the way – to invade Maseru.
They would come to Pitso Ground (which still had grass) and win.
However it wasn’t just at Pitso Ground where victories came, but wherever the green army ventured – in addition to their maiden league triumph in 1973, Linare won two successive championships in 1979 and 1980.
Given Lesotho’s high football standards at the time, Linare’s achievements were noteworthy.
Majantja weren’t battling relegation – they were fighting for the championship and had won the title in 1972. Lioli, though not quite the force of today, could always be counted on for a fight –– on and off the field. And in addition, travelling to Mafeteng to battle Bantu wasn’t the cake-walk it may turn out to be next season.
Maseru was still the capital of football, but it didn’t have to rely on soldiers and prison wardens for success. It had an assortment of teams (mostly named Maseru something).
As Lesotho’s first ever league champions in 1970 Maseru United were the dominant force. They would win again in 1976. Meanwhile, Maseru FC were champions in 1975. There was also Maseru Brothers – the errant boys who would dethrone Linare in 1981. The capital’s best team however was Matlama; the glamour boys who had become Lesotho’s first back-to-back league victors in 1977 and 1978.
Even so (despite the competition) from the winters of 1979 to the summer of 1981 Leribe ruled Lesotho – in fact in 1980 Linare swept everything winning all four trophies on offer that year.
Sadly the club’s recent years have been far less spectacular.
Indeed Linare are so bad that half Lesotho’s population might have never heard of them.
It is against this backdrop that the club’s new executive committee – chosen last month to control affairs for the next three years – heads for a “make or break” meeting this evening in Hlotse to map a way forward for Linare lest they stay trophy-less for another 10 years.
“Yes it is a critical meeting,” Thato Molapo, Linare general-secretary, told the Lesotho Times this week, “We are going to discuss and hopefully formulate our short term, middle and long term goals.”
“As an executive board we have already begun working on plans,” Molapo continued, “They are still under-wraps, (but) I am confident that we will get these things in order by the start of the coming season (August).”
For Linare’s faithful change is imperative, not only has the side fallen out of contention for domestic honours but they aren’t even Leribe’s top side anymore. Last season they were the district’s worst finishing below rivals Mphatlalatsane and Joy.
“We haven’t won a trophy this millennium,” Molapo said sorrowfully. “(But) the most important thing is the spirit in the team and the determination I see. Just last week the players themselves made resolutions for next season.”
“We have had problems in our administration in the past, that I can’t deny,” Molapo, who is embarking on a second term in the board, admitted.
“We have beefed up our coaching department. We used to just have the coach and his assistant. But we will now have a team manager and a coach who will deal with players based in Maseru,” he said.
Molapo, himself a resident of Maseru these days, acknowledged that geography has to be an excuse of the past, “We have to accept that Linare now has two bases,” he said. “Next season four teams will be relegated, it will be extremely tough and we need to get our act together.”
So will Linare win another trophy in the coming few years?
“I’m sure in the next three years we are poised for action not just rhetoric,” Molapo said. “Behind every dark cloud there is a silver lining.”