How Phatṧoane became a continental treasure
Top Lesotho Football Association Assistant (LeFA) referee Souru Phatṧoane, along with South African duo of Victor Gomes and Zakhele Siwela inked their names in the history books of football in the continent this past Monday when they officiated the final of the CAF Champions final between Al Ahly against Wydad Athletic Club.
The trio in March became the first match officials from Southern Africa to officiate the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, when they handled the final between continental heavyweights, Senegal and Egypt at the Stade Olembe in Yaoundé.
They never looked back since officiating the CAF Super Cup final between Esperance de Tunis and Zamalek played in Qatar in 2020 and their stock keeps rising internationally.
The three are among the continent’s best referees that will be on duty at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in October.
According to his elder brother, Ketsebile, Souru’s love affair with refereeing started at a very young age when he would officiate matches involving boys Under-12 teams.
“I used to own a team that was called Killers with boys under-12,15 and 17 teams as well as Likhosatsana, which was a woman’s team and we later sold its status to now LDF Ladies FC, that campaigns in the Lesotho Football Association Women’s Super League,” Ketsebile says.
“At one stage, I decided to shift all my focus to Likhosatsana and Souru had to look after the boys youth teams, and this is where he had to do his part as the referee when our boys teams had matches against other teams.”
Ketsebile believes Souru’s passion for the beautiful game was influenced by his older brothers as football was all they ever talked about at their Tṧenola home on the outskirts of Maseru.
“Myself and our eldest brother-Joel, were very passion about the gaming while growing up and I believe it rubbed off on Souru to follow suit,” Ketsebile recalls.
“His passion for refereeing developed as a youngster and he would soon learn how to take care of the young boys teams because he would referee whenever they played.”
Ketsebile says he could tell that his younger brother was interested in making it big as a referee when he got hold of his referees handbook called ‘the ‘Laws of the Game’.
“I had the FIFA Laws of the Game handbook that was a gift from a late friend, who was already a referee, but Souru got hold of the booklet and at that point, I knew he would follow a career in refereeing.
His next step was attending the LeFA referees basic course after completing his high school and as they say, the rest is history.
Despite his hectic schedule in recent years traveling across the globe to officiate in all the big international tournaments, Souru has not forgotten about his humble beginnings and remains committed to his community, where he owns Under-12 and 15 teams called Yebo Yes.
For his part, Joel says the family is quite proud of the achievement his young, decorated sibling has had over the years.
“As a family, we thank God for all that our little brother has achieved in his career as a referee. It has not been an easy journey at all,” Joel states
“He has faced a lot of challenges along this journey, but his commitment and dedication has got him thus far.
“We are very proud as the family because he has become a national pride as the football fraternity and the national at large continue to rally behind,” he says.
Giving a rare interview after officiating the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, where he was honoured by the LeFA in March, he attributed both hard work and dedication for his success as a referee.
“My secret is very simple, that is to work hard and make use of any opportunity that comes my way. I always make sure that I’m in good shape to cope with the demands of officiating at the biggest stages of continental football as well as the local league,” the decorated assistant referee said.
“It’s quite important for us referees to be in good physical condition and be in the position to go as far as the extra time because that is always an option in the knockout stages of different competitions,” he said.
He admits that officiating the Africa Cup of Nations Final between Senegal and Egypt came as a big of surprise as one of the youngest assistant referees, where he was paired with the experienced duo of Gomes and Siwela.
“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to officiate the final because if you look at the team that I was paired with, I’m was not as experienced as they were, I thought it would take at least officiating in three Afcon tournament before being handed such a big responsibility,” he recalls.
FIFA Referees Instructor and COSAFA Referees Manager, Felix Tangawarima, states that the Lesotho star referee is a typical example of how Association and the region can develop referees.
“When we talk about referees development, Souru is a typical example how we can develop referees. I’m so proud of him because I actually identified him from the lower ranks of Lesotho referees,” Tangawarima says.
“We groomed him through COSAFA and today we see where he is in his career and both the COSAFA region and myself as a person, who actually identified him, I’m very, very proud of the development which has taken place in his career.”
The former Zimbabwean international referee says Souru’s best attributes are his disciplined nature and loyalty to his work.
Tangawarima adds: “One good thing about him is that when you teach him, he listens. He is one guy who is humble, loyal, and very disciplined. These are the attributes that have taken him thus far.
“When you look at what he has done, for Lesotho, the zone as COSAFA and for Africa, really, he has been raising the flag for all of us and I’m extremely happy and excited that I have Souru, who has reached thus far.
“When you look at Lesotho, people say, a very small country has produced a world class top referee. For me really, this is wonderful. When I saw them officiating the Afcon final, the Champions League and they will be going to the World Cup, I know it’s through their good discipline and hard work that they have reached this level.
“This is a very good example and a very good development for the Lesotho Football Association and Lesotho as a nation. Where he is going, you will see the Kingdom’s flag raised by this young man. We need to continue supporting this young man and praying he gets more. My wish is that when he goes to the World Cup, he can continue to advance within the ranks. This is a big development for me as his instructor and coach, for Lesotho and COSAFA as the region. We are very proud of him,” the FIFA instructor says.
The Lesotho Football Association Executive Committee Member and Chairman of the Referees Committee, Tebalo Mpiti, paid homage to Phatṧoane for hoisting not only LeFA’s flag high internationally, but Lesotho’s.
“He has hoisted our fly high not only as the Association that groomed him, but the country at large. We are very proud of him.
“He remains the biggest inspiration to all our young referees to dream big and follow in his footsteps especially now that he has been selected among referees that will officiate at the World Cup.
“We wish him all the best in his career,” the LeFA referees boss says.