By Mikia Kalati
MASERU — Like most young boys growing up in Teya-teyaneng, Lebohang Thotanyana, nursed dreams of making it as a professional footballer.
He pursued that dream whilst playing plastic balls on the dusty streets of Teya-teyaneng, a small town about 40 kilometres north of the capital Maseru.
Thotanyana, 39, however, realised his dream of making it on the big stage.
Instead he found success elsewhere — in the world of academia — as he graduated from University of Cape Town with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 2002.
“My journey in football started as a young boy growing up and playing alongside my age mates in the dusty streets of Teyateyaneng.
“But I never got the chance to play at a higher level of competitive football in the country as studies took the better part of my childhood,” Thotanyana says.
Even though Thotanyana never found success on the field of play, he has since carved a niche on the administrative side of the game.
He is an accountant by profession and runs successful businesses in Maseru.
Thotanyana is at the helm of Lioli Football Club, one of the best run football clubs in Lesotho.
He is credited with turning the club semi-professional in the 2011 season which saw the club’s players receiving monthly salaries of M1 000, a modest figure but a first for Lesotho’s players.
He says his skills as an administrator were put to the test severely in the 2007-8 season when he was elected Lioli vice-president.
The following season Thotantana was elected the club president as Mosholu “Shoes” Mokhothu took over the coaching reins from Leslie Notši.
That season the club lifted its first league title ending a 24-year wait for success.
He says although he grew up playing football in Teya-teyaneng, his passion for the game really blossomed when he was elected into the Lioli management.
When he joined Lioli in 2007 the club only had M20 in the bank account while debts had ballooned to a staggering M50 000.
But success soon followed. In 2007-08 season under Notši, Lioli won the Imperial Top 8 trophy which was followed by the league in the 2008-09 season.
He says his desire is to see Lioli succeed on and off the field.
“It was really tough and frustrating to run the club. There were no resources while the team had huge debts,” he says.
“The first priority was to build an organisation that would be sustainable.
“I do not believe in handouts and we introduced a lot of projects that have so far helped Lioli make money and be sustainable,” said Thotanyana.
The club has since turned the corner winning the Independence Cup and another league title last season.
“People laughed and mocked us when we said Lioli would be paying their players a few seasons ago.
“I’m glad though that today a few more teams have followed in our footsteps and the game has seen a big growth,” he says.
He says his involvement with Lioli did not just plant within him a desire to make Lioli the best in the land but had also cultivated within him a desire to serve his country in higher office.
Thotanyana is now the Lesotho Football Association second vice-president as well as chairman of the premier league.
“It all started with the passion and desire to make a contribution at the highest level of football in our country,” Thotanyana said.
“I wanted to be part of the leadership and make an input by bringing new ideas and improve the standard of the game.”
He says football demands a lot of time and sometimes affects his schedule as a businessman.
But I’m happy to be ploughing back to the community through the beautiful game, he says.
Thotanyana says he is happy that the corporate world is eager to invest in football and help in the growth of the game in Lesotho.
He, however, says the league must put in the driving seat men and women of integrity to run football as businesses want to deal with people they can trust.
“Transparency and accountability are vital when you work with companies,” he says.
He says there is no place in modern football for those who want to use the game to line their pockets.
Thotanyana says his dream is to see the game grow at club level and attract big sponsors.
His dream this year is to see his beloved Lioli FC do well in the African Champions League.