Transforming Toronto

Tshepo Kehimile

The brains behind Notwane’s stunning revival

Having cemented their return to the Premier League with a 12th place finish, missing out on the Top 8 by just four points, many expected Notwane FC to push on this season.

However, a nightmare start quickly curtailed any dreams of glory Toronto might have haboured.

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Docked six points for failing to comply with licencing requirements before a ball had been kicked in anger, once the action started the club’s fortunes plummeted further.

After just one game, a 2-0 loss to Police XI, Notwane parted ways with their journeyman Serbian coach, Dragojlo Stanojlovic.

The Gaborone-based outfit moved swiftly to replace Drago, bringing in local tactician Oupa Kowa to steady their stuttering ship.

The former Township Rollers, Mochudi Centre Chiefs and Extension Gunners man found himself under immediate pressure, losing his first four matches in charge, his side failing to score a single goal.

Despite the disastrous run, to their credit Notwane’s supporters showed a patience and understanding rarely seen in the cutthroat modern game.

“Management and fans understood that they had to give me time to map out a strategy that would eventually help the team get the needed results. They could see that there was bit of improvement in play despite losing so many games,” recalls Kowa, speaking exclusively to Voice Sport this week.

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“I took over when stakes where really high at the club – results were not coming in! I had to assess the team, and the league did not give us luxury to do that – that is why we lost so many games.”

Kowa attributes much of Notwane’s early troubles to a lack of fitness in the squad.

“Furthermore, I was unhappy with the level of fitness of my players at the time hence I had to improvise to at least get few points but it was not to be.”

A 0-0 draw against Gaborone United followed, the rot temporarily halted as Notwane claimed their first point of the season thanks largely to the heroics of their goalkeeper, Mabitso Rapowa.

However, the goalless encounter meant Toronto had now gone 540 minutes (nine hours) without scoring.

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Finally, in their seventh outing of the season, Sechaba ended their drought, a Terry Mbuqe penalty securing a 1-1 draw with BDF XI.

The wait for a win would last a little longer.

A 2-1 loss to Township Rollers left Notwane rooted to the bottom on -4 points after eight matches.

Finally, on a muggy Wednesday evening in the first week of November, over two months after the Premier League started, Kowa’s troops picked up their first victory.

TURNAROUND: Notwane players celebrating a goal

Gilport Lions, who themselves were on a five-match losing streak, proved the perfect opposition.

With both teams low on confidence, a scrappy game ensued. In the end a single goal settled the tie and Notwane at long last had a win to savour.

The result would prove a turning point in Notwane’s season.

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Since the Gilport game, Toronta have accumulated 20 points from a possible 33, including a win and a draw against title chasing Orapa United.

The unlikely turnaround has seen the club launch up the league, although, because of their awful start, they still sit precariously placed, just one point above an incredibly tight drop zone.

So, exactly how did Kowa achieve such a remarkable transformation?

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“With a little bit of belief in what I am doing by the players and being a father-figure to them helped a lot. They felt free to approach me with their problems on and off the pitch. It paid dividends as we are now getting those crucial points!” is the mild mannered coach’s humble explanation.

Oozing confidence having won their last three league encounters, including a 1-0 triumph over Orapa last time out, and securing an Orange FA Cup quarter-final meeting with Jwaneng Galaxy after shooting down BDF 2-0, the postponement of local football could not have come at a worst time for Notwane.

Time will tell if the Covid-19 disruption derails the team’s momentum.

For Kowa, however, there are other Corona-related complications to consider.

“I fear that the players might come back affected psychologically. A typical example would be when a player sustains a serious injury. After recovery he mostly fears contact and that might happen to our beautiful game, where players might fear contact due to this.”

With the enforced break set to continue for the foreseeable future, Kowa is keen to ensure his players maintain the fitness that has been instrumental to their revival.

“Through my physical trainer I have given my boys a programme to keep fit. So on return we concentrate on strategies and game approach.”

For Kowa and his in-form troops, that return can not come soon enough.

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