ST MONICA’S — Not so long ago St Monica’s Sacred Heart High School field was something of a slaughterhouse.
Back then, Mphatlalatsane’s ground wasn’t a place to enjoy Sunday afternoons for opposition teams.
Visiting sides were routinely hammered.
But that of course was in the A Division.
The pitch, well kept and manicured, was tight, steep and oppressive.
Hostile as anything, the abuse hurled at unsuspecting corner-kick takers and linesmen was done in the support and love of a team that embodied the spirit of St Monica’s.
What happened on the pitch was a logical extension of life off it.
The players were gladiators, fuelled by the locals, in the village’s colosseum.
The club tactics often involved booting the ball, and the opponents, as high in the air as possible.
It wasn’t always pretty, but it was passionate — and strangely fun.
It was effective too, getting the team to the Premier League for the first time in their 30-year history in 2000.
Since then, Mphatlalatsane have never really found themselves in serious relegation trouble.
They aren’t in danger this season either. That, however, is not the point.
Mphatlalatsane find themselves 11th on the 16-team log — in the middle of nowhere and sliding.
Their only saving grace in fact has been the woeful form of the sides below them.
Take away a four-game winning streak in January and February, and Mphatlalatsane’s season has been a terrible one.
In that mini-blitz the side scored seven goals — almost half of their season’s total of 15.
That goal-rush had been preceded by a period where the team failed to score in six successive matches.
In fact, in 12 of their 20 games this season Mphatlalatsane haven’t scored.
Only Sekamaneng Young Stars and Majantja have a worse record in the league.
The passion of the community has seemingly vanished too.
Two weekends ago Lioli visited St Monica’s.
The locals were outnumbered six to one — that’s six Lioli fans for each Mphatlalatsane fan.
Granted, Lioli boast the biggest fan base in the country, but there was a time when the locals would never have bowed down to anybody, let alone visitors from Berea.
It’s 2009 and things are much different, much sadder.
Too much losing.
Six losses in six games is no laughing matter.
This past weekend, Mphatlalatsane suffered further ignominy, losing to two relegation-threatened sides – 1-0 to Majantja on Saturday and 3-2 at home to Butha-Buthe Roses the following day.
Mphatlalatsane are a team in crisis.
Since December the side has been without head coach Molejane Makalo due to ill health.
Khethang Ntsoerent, his assistant, took over the reins.
But logistical problems have largely undermined him.
Half the Mphatlalatsane team are based in Maseru.
One of those in St Monica’s is defensive stalwart Tlou Nthinya who due to family reasons joined his home town team from LCS in January.
“It’s hard when you have half the team somewhere else and sometimes there is no training here,” he said.
Indeed ill discipline has affected the team.
But Ntsoerent was diplomatic.
“I personally haven’t had a problem with players. They respect me,” he said.
“The problem of course is that when you are not there they do what they want.
“The majority of the players are in Maseru. The coach (Makalo) lived in St Monica’s so he was able to control the team.”
He added: “Back when Mphatlalatsane was great the team was all from St Monica’s so there will be that thing of people saying that this team is from Maseru and not from St Monica’s.”
But Ntsoerent thinks the team is improving.
“When I look at the team now we are much better ,” he said.
“Right now I have a problem especially with the keeper — that is the biggest problem.”
But Ntsoerent is hopeful that the season won’t fizzle out.
“It’s highly possible that we will improve,” he said.
“This is a situation similar to what we had last season when people were saying that Mphatlalatsane would be relegated.
“Those players that didn’t want to perform were kicked out of the team.
“That is what we are going to do now. We are going to root out those players that are not committed to the cause.”
This week they face Leribe rivals Linare.
Three-time league champions, Linare are themselves having a poor season.
They are languishing even below Mphatlalatsane in 12th.
It’s a must-win game for Mphatlalatsane.
“We are going into that game for a win. My top striker (Mashupha Majara) will be back, and if my team is 100 percent we will win,” Ntsoerent said.
“If we can’t play well against Linare then we will never play well.”
Saturday: Matlama vs Butha-Buthe Roses, Lerotholi vs Sekamaneng Young Stars, Naughty Boys vs Rovers, Joy vs LDF.
Sunday: Swallows vs LCS, Majantja vs Likhopo, Mphatlalatsane vs Linare, LMPS vs Lioli.