Paris Sekgobela was just 13 when his cousin, Kopano Sekgobela, was involved in the accident that ended his playing career.
Growing up in the same homestead, Paris always looked up to ‘Skopa’. He was his source of hope as far as being the next soccer star to come out of Ga-Phasha village, located in the Sekhukhune district of Limpopo.
So, the saddening car crash that put a full stop on his cousin’s blossoming football career was equally a blow to the then teenager.
He had watched Kopano carve his niche right from his dad’s Sekgobela Santos right up to the PSL with so much interest. Skopa’s misfortune in November 2012 meant his own downfall, he thought.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard about the accident from my brother, it felt like my world had come down crumbling,” Paris tells FARPost.
Skopa’s journey is quite a fascinating one that he tells with a deserved beam. He recalls his days as a youngster when his mom, Rosina, would leave him alone at home to go to work in the family business in Moroke Ga-Mphaka, a 10-minute drive from Ga-Phasha.
While mom was away, he had to find some sort of entertainment and the closest thing he could do in the village nestled by majestic mountains was make a plastic ball and go play with his peers.
Funnily enough, everyone wanted to be in his team because he was always the most terrific. “I would dribble everyone,” he tells FARPost.
After showing glimpses of talent, his late dad Abram Sekgobela, who passed on in 2016, took him to Turfloop, some 20 km from Polokwane’s popular Mall of the North.
There, he met the late Jerry Ramohlale, who ran the Tshiamo Academy, renowned for developing talents like Mamelodi Sundowns captain Hlompho Kekana, Kaizer Chiefs defender Ramahlwe Mphahlele, former SuperSport United midfielder Richard Rantjie, ex-Kaizer Chiefs defender Tlou Molekwane, Vincent Kobola, who played for Tuks and TTM forward Edgar Manaka.
“My dad sent me to Tshiamo Academy in 2004 because he thought I would progress in my football there. He actually knew Coach Jerry,” reveals Skopa.
One of his Tshiamo Academy coaches, Percy Motloutsi remembers how shy he looked off the field, only to switch on once he was on the field of play.
“He was a shy boy, but with a lot of technical abilities. We just needed to polish him up,” Motloutsi tells FARPost in a separate telephonic interview.
By his own admission, meeting the late talent handler Ramohlale, who passed on in January this year after Covid-19 related complications, was a springboard for his football dream. He is so convinced that had he stayed in Ga-Phasha he would have not reached heights he attained.
“I started dreaming of playing professionally when I went to Turfloop. Coach Jerry and Coach Percy played a massive role in my development,” explains Skopa.
One thing led to another. A stint in Port Elizabeth with Bay United then led to his last professional club Polokwane City.
Memories were created. Dreams were dreamt. Young boys back in the village were inspired. “We all followed Kopano with so much interest because he represented each of our dreams,” adds Paris.
There is one game that his ardent followers and himself would quickly want to forget. It was a promotional playoff against Jomo Cosmos in the 2010/11 season at Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa, a large township situated to the north of Kempton Park on the East Rand, Gauteng.
“I missed a penalty in that game,” he says. Being the incredible optimist that he is, he swiftly flips the coin. “Anyone can miss a penalty even Ronaldo and Messi have missed a penalty before,” he added.
Interestingly, that is the same attitude he has adopted after the accident that left him wheelchair bound.
“My brother, when the accident happened five players were thrown out of the bus and of those five, only one survived, that is me,” he says compellingly.
“God had a purpose, my brother!”
His resolve now is to reinvent himself and replicate his abilities on the football pitch. While he can no longer play the game, he has the know-how to groom the next Skopa.
As he embarks on the noble mission, he doesn’t have to look too far. The young boy who idolised him back in the day, Paris, is ready to take up the baton stick.
He has every ingredient, he believes, to go and set local stadia alight with his dazzling skills. “He has so much skill, he’s very creative in and around the box.” In other words, Paris, named after the French capital, can unlock defences when on song.
Interestingly, one sweet day, Skopa took his laptop, loaded with some of his games for Bay United and Polokwane City. He summoned Paris and had him watch the videos.
“He made me watch videos of him playing. Eish, it inspired me a lot. It showed me how much he believed in me and how much he wanted me to see where I could get to if I take my football seriously. I want to be like him and play in the PSL,” says 22-year-old Paris.
“I’m a big fan of Kaizer Chiefs and it has always been my dream to play for them,” he adds.
His cousin, who is slowly but surely carving a niche for himself as a coach, knew what he was doing when he made his boy watch the videos.
“I wanted him to see how I used to play. He has the potential to go even further than I did,” he says, adding that Mamelodi Sundowns had made enquiries about him shortly before the accident.
“I don’t want to take these boys to tournaments here in my village when they know that I played professionally. I want to see four or five of them play in either the PSL or GladAfrica. These boys can go far if they’re given a chance.”
He has no doubt that some of his boys have what it takes to play football at the highest level. “These boys are talented; I think they can make it in the PSL or GladAfrica.”
In fact, with all confidence he has previously invited Baroka FC to have a look at his hopefuls. However, Covid-19 disrupted a plan to play a friendly match against the PSL side.
Another of his top hopefuls is Kabelo Sekgobela, an 18-year-old orphan who joined Dinoko FC last year.
“I came to the village from Daveyton [under Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality of Gauteng] last year to stay with my grandmother after both my parents passed on. It’s been such a privilege to be coached by Kopano. He always has a way of pushing us to win games.
“He has a tough side to him, and it works with the team. We can be 3-0 down at halftime and come back a different team after halftime to win a game because of the way he speaks to us,” the pint-sized attacking midfielder, Kabelo, tells FARPost.
It gives Motloutsi so much joy to hear of the exploits of his prodigy despite being wheelchair bound.
“By the way, it was quite emotional for us when the accident happened. Kopano wasn’t the only one from our academy who was in the Polokwane City team bus when the accident happened. There were three of them.
“Where the accident happened was about 5km from where they were developed. But I must say I’m very proud of him especially the way he has picked himself up and continues to make an impact in his community.”
“It gives us joy to see what he’s doing. It means he was developed holistically. Not so many people can coach from a wheelchair. He’s imparting the knowledge he acquired to his community excellently,” Motloutsi says.
Those who have watched his team Dinoko FC testify that he is a tactician in the making. “He knows what he is doing. If I had a boy child, I would have wanted him to play like he used to play,” says Maphefo Sekgobela.
In essence, she is chaffed by what the Tshiamo Academy graduate is doing. But Skopa will only find fulfilment when his boys finally make it to the PSL or GladAfrica.
By Mthokozisi Dube