As FARPost continues to tell the untold stories of South African footballers making strides overseas our reporter Prince Sobayeni caught up with 19-year-old Soshanguve-born midfielder Katlego Mashigo who took time out to share his football journey since leaving South Africa as a 5-year-old kid from the dusty streets of Pretoria to move to Ireland, where his mom was working.
Mashigo left with his parents at a very age and now he opens up about it.
Prince Sobayeni: Katli thanks for joining us so my brother how did it all begin?
Katlego Mashigo: “Thanks for having me Sir pleasure to be here. So at the age of six I joined my first club, Phoenix FC where I stayed for 7 years developing in the ranks and ended up becoming captain until I reached the under-13s. During this time as a team we won one league and I was able to be given the opportunity to play the cup final which was memorable for me.
“Following on I then signed for St.Kevins Boys second team at the age of 13 and got to represent the league in the biggest under-14 tournament in Ireland, the Kennedy Cup. We finished the tournament in third place and I was invited into the under-15 Ireland international camp and made three appearances.
“I made two starts out of the three games coming up against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sunderland and the third appearance I came as a substitute against Northern Ireland. This was my first time playing international football for the Irish national team.
“During this time I was invited to many more training camps while playing for the under-15s and 16s. I also got a chance to play within the best tournament in the world known as Milk Cup with my representative team NDSL (North Dublin SchoolBoy League).
“The tournament included many other well known teams such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle, Bayern Munich, Right to Dream, etc. That day I finished as top goal scorer for my representative team and later in the league season with St Kevins second team I finished with 14 goals.
“The following season I moved up to the under-15s first team and won the all Ireland tournament. The second year in the first team I scored 14 goals and won the all Ireland tournament again. At the age of 16 signed for an English League one club called Fleetwood Town FC which was a big move for me individually.”
In my first season at Fleetwood with the under-18s I made 25 appearances with 6 goals and the second season I made 38 appearances with 5 goals. I was playing for the youth team under-18s and moved up to the under-23s when I was 17 then I made my debut against Blackburn Rovers.
“My time at Fleetwood was memorable as it was my first time living away from my family and I was able to work with top players and managers such as the first team managers Uwe Rosler, John Sheridan and Joey Barton but unfortunately my time at Fleetwood ended at the age of 18 at the end of my contract.
“Life goes on so I then began my journey at Bohemians FC in June 2019 starting with the under-19 team while signing a dual with the first team. I was involved in the UEFA youth champions League starting the home fixture and coming on as a sub in the away fixture against PAOK. I was also involved in the first team fixtures but unfortunately didn’t come on for my debut.”
Prince Sobayeni: I know in our conversations you have opened up about your departure from Fleetwood can you some shed light with South Africa about that and how it transpired?
Katlego Mashigo: “Leaving Fleetwood Town FC felt heartbreaking considering how well I had performed during that season playing with the under-23s every week in the second half of the season, performing well with the under-18s and doing well in training. Unfortunately in the end it was not good enough but that’s football and like anything else in life you just have to pick yourself up and continue working hard.
“A lesson I took was if one person’s opinion is not in my favour it does not mean I am a bad player because in football there will be many ups and downs but I just had to keep working hard. When I was released and told I was not getting a new contract it was disappointing because as a player I had seen a massive difference compared to when I first began. My faith kept me motivated during the good and the bad times but one quote I always remembered was ‘be strong now because things will get better. It might be stormy now but it can’t rain forever’.”
Prince Sobayeni: What would you say is your biggest challenge so far in your career though?
Katlego Mashigo: “The biggest challenge I faced as a footballer was my first injury. It was the hardest time to be injured as it was preseason and it was before a preseason tour in Holland. It was mentally tough watching from the sidelines so as a 16-year-old I began to look at the negative perspective like ‘will I recover and be the same after this injury?’.
“I had bruised my MCL (medial cruciate ligament) and I was advised to take 6 weeks off from playing but it does not seem like a long time however as a player that was the longest time I had not been on a pitch so far in my career. After 6 weeks I had completed the recovery work with my physiotherapist and I was ready to start training again.”
That was the best feeling to be back as part of the team and I was looking forward to the next match and just being back on the pitch. Another challenge I faced was the decision I had to make to move away to a new country and play football full time (when he joined Fleetwood Town FC in England). I had to start the process of making this decision at the age of 15 with the support of my family but it was nerve-wrecking as I knew I had to be independent.
“I knew no one in the area and it was challenging, but it was definitely worth going as I met people I would have never come across. At the time the best thing would be being given the opportunity to go visit family or they would come and see me which made me more motivated to keep going as I could see how proud they were of me.”
Prince Sobayeni: Growing up did you have any football idol or role model?
Katlego Mashigo: My biggest inspiration and motivation to play football was my dad. My earliest memories from a young age going to our nearest park and just kicking a ball around with him. He was the first to teach me how to kick it, which part of your foot you should use and how to pass the ball, just the basics you know.
“The first professional footballer I enjoyed watching a lot was Steven Gerrad I mean he was just phenomenal to see him creating goal opportunities, being the core of the team and controlling the tempo was amazing for me.
I also remember singing Steven Gerrad songs with my dad in our first apartment when we moved to Ireland and in those moments I realised this was something I would want to do and that’s when I became a Liverpool fan.”
Prince Sobayeni: Any short-term and long-term career goals?
Katlego Mashigo: My aspirations and dreams are to play at the highest level in the Engliah Premier League or somewhere abroad. The dream at the moment is to be in the first team in my current team Bohemians FC which is a huge club in Ireland more like Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates in Mzansi and be getting more international call ups and play matches for South Africa.
“Being able to represent my country (at U20 level) was a dream come true and something I look forward to hopefully continuing doing in the future. I just want to take every opportunity that comes for me and never regret anything. I want to become a stronger player than I already am and just be the best I can be.”
Hopefully this little write up can show anyone at any age around the world that they believe in your dreams, trust in your dreams and dream big because if you reach for the moon you’ll get a few stars along the way. Believe in yourself and trust the process.”
Prince Sobayeni: I know you got your first national team call up last year to go to the All Africa games, what did that mean to you?
Katlego Mashigo: “Wow bro getting my first international call up for the U20 was the best feeling in the world I just couldn’t believe it hey truly a dream come true to play for my country.
“I was told in training on a Tuesday afternoon, the manager called me before the training session and said we’ve received an email and you’ve been selected to represent the South African U20 team in the All Africa games and you’ll be going there next week. I was left speechless I didn’t know what to say and from the step back I had from Fleetwood and to get this two months later, now do you know what I mean when I say football is a funny game?
“During that training session I couldn’t wait to go home and tell my parents that I have just been picked for the national team and when I told my parents they couldn’t believe it we were all in shock and just thanked God for giving me this opportunity.
“I played against Nigeria coming coming on at halftime and later against Burkina Faso coming on in the second half as well. Making my international debut against Nigeria I couldn’t believe that this is me Katlego Mashigo the little kid who used to play in the park with his Dad getting to know football and now I’m representing my country, crazy hey.
“It just showed me that hard work really does pay off and I’ve experienced it first hand. Moving forward I’ll continue working and hopefully I’ll get many more of these opportunities in the future.”