From Portsmouth to Maseru
Born in Germany to English parents, Chris Bullock travelled over 6119 miles to fulfill his dream of working in football administration and has just completed his first year working for the Lesotho Football Association.
The Englishman from Portsmouth sits down with the LeFA media team to discuss his journey serving the beautiful game in the Mountain Kingdom.
LeFA: Ntate Chris, it’s close to a decade for you working and living in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and surely by now you have a Sesotho name?
CB: Ha, yes, I was given the name Mohale quite early in my stay here and it has stuck. In fact, I think I am now more widely known as Mohale rather than Chris!
LeFA: You have just completed your first year working for the Lesotho Football Association. Please share that experience with us?
CB: It’s been a very interesting experience. I have been able to really understand the football here a lot more than I did at club level, where we are at, what needs to be done, what the challenges are. It has also been a great learning curve, working with an Secretary General (SG), who has so much experience and knowledge. I am also very happy I have been given the opportunity to put forward my own ideas and we are currently working on a lot of development plans in terms of football development, infrastructure development, business development which I believe will contribute to football moving forward and it’s been great to have a relationship with the SG, where we both know we can bounce ideas off each other and share ideas together.
LeFA: Your previous job was with Premier League outfit Kick4Life. How different is it to your current job working for the football federation?
CB: Yes, very different in many ways. At club level it is more about growing the club on and off the field and ensuring it is sustainable and achieving goals and objectives in terms of sporting performance whereas here at LeFA it is more about the governance and development of the sport. But both are really interesting and enjoyable challenges and although sometimes I miss waking up on a Saturday morning excited about the team playing, it is also quite nice not having your weekend ruined by a poor result!
LeFA: How did your move to Lesotho come about?
CB: I had been to Lesotho twice with an organisation called Kick4Life, which offered the opportunity to travel to Lesotho to play football matches and experience the programmes they were running around HIV/AIDS. I became good friends with the Co-Founders of the organisation as I was really inspired by the work they were doing. I was also involved in football and one day I had an e-mail from Kick4Life asking if I would go out for one year to work for them. At the time, they had an A-Division team, which had just stayed up the season before and they decided they wanted to take it to the next level. They asked if I would help build up and run the club to see if we could take the club somewhere. It was an opportunity which I felt was very interesting, but I thought it would only be for one year in Lesotho, it was a challenge I couldn’t turn down and here we are, eight and a half years later, with a lot of incredible experiences and achievements. Meeting and working with some amazing people and I am still here, with still a lot to be achieved!
LeFA: Take us through your upbringing in England and rise in football?
CB: I was actually born in German, but to British parents and am British. I spent three years living in Germany at a young age, where I was taken to my first every football match very young, a game between Borussia Moenchengladbach and Bayern Munich and then spent most of my life in Portsmouth in the South Coast, where I grew up watching Portsmouth play every week. I studied Social Science of Sport and Business Studies in London, where I graduated in 2005.
I played football at an amateur level and although in my younger years of playing, felt like I would want to go in to coaching, I started to take an interest in the administration and business side of football and ended up running some amateur teams while I was still playing up until my move to Lesotho.
LeFA: Was working in football always your dream?
CB: I always enjoyed being involved in football both on and off the field and it was certainly something I felt I would like to do. I wasn’t sure whether that would come in a full-time capacity or part-time capacity, but always knew I would always be involved in football. But it is certainly a brilliant industry to work in and I am very grateful to Kick4Life FC and LeFA for giving me the opportunities to advance my career in football. I really hope that in years to come, I will be able to feel like I gave something back to football in Lesotho.
LeFA: What have you learnt from serving the beautiful game in the Mountain Kingdom?
CB: What was evident from the very first time I visited Lesotho is the passion and love for the game as well as the amount of talent that is in the country. But I have also seen that there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of development, infrastructure, and coach education but that is something that also needs the buy in from all parties, not just us as LeFA, but from players, coaches, government, and all of the stakeholders involved in the game.
LeFA: What’s your assessment of football in Lesotho?
CB: We still have a long way to go, with our leagues still being amateur/semi-professional, infrastructure still a challenge and still a lot of work that needs to be done with youth development, coach education and women’s football. But a lot of plans have been put in place and are being implemented which will see football grow over the coming years across all these areas.
LeFA: Your countryman, the late Trevor Phillips set the bar very high and remains very popular in this part of the world for his successes serving the South African Premier Soccer League. Can the same be expected from you?
CB: I wouldn’t want to compare myself with other people, but certainly I would want to make sure I have contributed to football in the country both in terms of the development of the game and also empowering others, who will go on to have a career in the game to also make a contribution to growing football in Lesotho.
LeFA: Players across the African continent are getting opportunities to play in England. Do our players have what it takes to play at that level?
CB: The talent is here, like anywhere else, but a lot depends on ensuring players get the right development from an early age. Therefore, it is so important to put a lot of focus on youth and grassroots football and coach education to ensure that the talent gets the right development which will allow them to be able to play in countries overseas in more developed leagues whether that be in Europe or other professional and developed leagues across the world.
LeFA: Is the corporate world doing enough to help in the development and transformation of football in the country?
CB: This one is a difficult one. The economic climate in Lesotho makes it very difficult to find sponsors for sport. There are some companies especially telecommunications and insurance companies who are playing their part, but we all must do more to ensure that companies see the value in investing in sport. This needs to involve developing the game and ensuring that we develop a product that attracts people to the stadiums and watching our football through media platforms. We will continue to try and ensure that we convince more companies to invest a lot more money into football.
LeFA: What about politicians. Are they doing enough for football and sports in general?
CB: I think the main differences between Europe and Africa in terms of government support, is the amount of money that is put into sport. I really believe that in order to grow football, we need to see more football (and sports in general) being played in schools. I was very surprised when I learnt that Physical Education isn’t part of the school curriculum. In Europe, sports will be part of everyday school and then there is of course schools sports team which play in leagues and competitions and where a lot of players get spotted for professional support. I think if there was to be a sports policy which insists on sport being part of the school curriculum and if there was more time for kids to play sports, we will see a lot more talent coming out of the school system and as a result see sports grow in Lesotho.