The rise and rise of Women’s Super League

The rise and rise of Women’s Super League

 Luciah Phahla

Maseru – Two weekends ago Stoko were crowned Lesotho’s second annual Women’s Super League champions after a thrilling 2016 season.
It was a deserved but unexpected triumph for Stoko who led a three-way title battle for much of the season. In the end, the upstarts finished two points clear of the pack, sealing the crown with a 2-0 win over Mafeteng Sistas on the final day.
The result capped a remarkable campaign in which Stoko lost just once, a 1-0 defeat to Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in October.
But while Stoko celebrated, there was heartbreak for Kick4Life who were condemned to second place for a second season in a row.
Last year Kick4Life suffered a similarly agonising fate when they finished behind LDF who were then known as Likhosatsana.
But this year’s outcome was more of a shock.

Kick4Life and LDF, the established powers of the local women’s game, had once again been expected to dominate proceedings until previously unheralded Stoko spoiled the party to claim a maiden championship.
For Kick4Life the disappointment is amplified by their dominance in all areas except the final points table.
They scored a league-high 45 goals and conceded the fewest, only five. In their star-studded squad Kick4Life also possessed the marquee player in the women’s game, Senate Letsie, who struck a league leading 24 goals.
But despite facing another trophy-less Christmas, the club’s football director Chris Bullock said he was encouraged by Kick4Life’s season though he admitted improvement is needed if they are to finally win the title.

“We are happy with how the season went generally,” he said.
“To finish in second place in our second season in the Women’s Super League is something to build on. From my personal point of view — and most of the girls would agree — there is a lot of room for improvement if we are hoping to challenge for a league title.”
Bullock also praised the improvement of the eight-team Women’s Super League.

2016 was the league’s second year in existence and though it still struggles with sponsorship, it showed a healthy increase in competition. Thanks to the emergence of Stoko, for example, this season saw an exciting race that had Stoko, Kick4Life and LDF all having a chance to win the title heading into the final weeks.
“Last season it was another team that won the league, this time around it’s a different team,” Bullock said highlighting the league’s promising parity.
“Last year it was a two-horse race and everyone thought it would be the same this year. But other teams have also shown a lot of improvement and that is good,” he added.
The progress is also heartening for Lesotho National Women’s Football Committee public relations officer Selloane Nkoebele, but the challenge now is to get backing in order to give impetus to the positive signs.

“We are trying everything we can to get sponsors,” Nkoebele said. “Even the clubs themselves are working hard to get sponsors but it is not easy or it’s not happening as fast as we would have liked.”
Given the current socio-economic climate, the sponsorship challenge facing women’s football is unsurprising. One needs to look no further than the men’s game which is still struggling to advance from amateur status despite long being established.
As a result, Nkoebele said the women’s committee is looking at other innovative ways, including creating district leagues, to drive development.
“We will be going to different districts around the country and holding tournaments to introduce women’s football,” she said.
“We have already started in Maseru and now we want people outside Maseru to know about the Women’s Super League. We want to encourage them to form their own teams that will be playing in the district leagues.”

The discussions have also involved the idea of eventually introducing new teams to the Women’s Super League.
“It has been talked about but I don’t think it will happen in the upcoming season,” Bullock said.
“There is an idea to introduce district teams by the (Lesotho National Women’s Football Committee). Once it is up and running it is an opportunity to introduce new teams into the Super League. That’s what we are looking to do in the longer term, but probably not in the 2017 season,” he said.
For now the progress of the Women’s Super League can been seen in the performance of the national women’s team, Mehalalitoe. Last month the team travelled to Swaziland to play two international friendlies.

The first ended in a 1-1 draw with Boitumelo Rabale on the score-sheet before the sides shared a 2-2 stalemate in the second encounter with Kholu Lebakeng scoring a brace for Lesotho.

The results extended Mehalalitoe’s unbeaten run to four games and means they have only lost once in their six games since the team was re-established in 2015.
Bullock commended Mehalalitoe’s performance especially given the small pool of players it has to select from.
“It is difficult when you have only got eight teams (in the league) and you have to pick from them, but they have really done great,” he said.
“They have played six games over the last year. I think they have only lost one (game) and they are improving all the time. I think there is a lot of talent in the Super League and the idea of introducing district leagues will increase the teams and increase the number of girls playing competitive football,” Bullock added.
“It gives you a larger pool of players to select from and I think it would be great to have for the national team. The girls been playing for over 18 months and have been excellent.

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