> Bakang Mhladi
GABORONE-THE mining town of Orapa, about 500km northwest of Botswana’s capital, battled soccer depression for several seasons.
One team would go up and the next moment the heartache of demotion struck. Clubs such as Orapa Wanderers and Boteti Young Fighters fought an unsuccessful battle to stay in the top flight.
Then it dawned on football administrators in the Boteti region, where Orapa is located, that only unity will drive the game forward.
In 2012, all the clubs in the regions were dismantled and from the ashes, one formidable team, Orapa United, emerged. The team campaigned in the second tier, the First Division, in its debut season.
United did not struggle and was promoted to the Premier League the following season and immediately caused a storm.
Orapa United completed their debut season in the top flight with just one loss at their home ground, Itekeng Stadium, and finished second behind winners, Mochudi Centre Chiefs. The team’s only defeat came during a 2-1 reversal against then BMC in August 2014
That season, Zimbabwean coach, Maxwell ‘Malume’ Moyo was close to winning the title but was shown the door despite an impressive run. His fellow countryman, Madinda Ndlovu took charge and has elevated the team to a higher pedestal, providing full proof that their debut season showing was not a flash in the pan.
The former Zimbabwe speedy winger has already won the country’s premier knockout competition, the Mascom Top 8, after defeating Township Rollers in the final last season.
Orapa finished their second season in third spot plus bagging their first major silverware.
They lost just once at home with the same team, BMC, now renamed Gilport Lions, returning to the Itekeng fortress to inflict familiar pain.
Now into their third season, Orapa United are unbeaten in six matches, meaning in 71 matches they have only lost twice at home, an unmatched local record.
Giants such as Chiefs and Rollers have all failed to win at Itekeng, with Orapa United particularly brutal on crowd-pulling yet underachieving Extension Gunners.
Last season, the Gunners show rolled into Orapa amid soaring expectations with the Lobatse team enjoying a rare stay at the top after a perfect start in their four opening matches. But Orapa United, aka the Ostriches, inflicted a first defeat on Gunners.
Last weekend, the same situation was replayed when Gunners travelled to Itekeng undefeated and sitting at the top of the log, but emerged with their tails between their legs after a crushing 2-0 defeat. Just like last season, Orapa United toppled Gunners from the summit of the league table.
While Orapa has been particularly ruthless at home, their assistant coach, Zacharia Muzadzi, does not want to read much into the statistics. His side sits at the top of the table with 12 points from the opening six assignments.
“It’s not only at home, we have been playing well even away,” he told The Southern Times. “It’s all about utilising home ground advantage, nothing more than that.”
With perennial contenders Rollers’ campaign gaining traction after a slow start, Muzadzi believes it is too early to talk about the title.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There’s still a long way to go. What’s important is that we get to the Christmas break on top. Games are now coming thick and fast and consistency will be key,” he noted.
Teams are forced to play midweek matches due to a fixture congestion caused by the late start to the campaign.
While Orapa won 2-0 to dethrone Gunners, Rollers impressively hung on to the Ostriches’ coat tails with a 5-1 thumping of hapless Green Lovers on Saturday to remain second, just a point behind the leaders.
Gunners dropped to fourth while BDF XI, with a point gained from a 2-2 draw against Gaborone United on Sunday, climbed to third. Both Gunners and BDF XI have 11 points in what is turning out to be a fierce contest, early on in the 30-game race.
Police XI, Green Lovers and debutants, Mahalapye United Hotspurs, occupy the three relegation spots, although changes were expected with a flurry of midweek action.