Sometimes in football, at least according to the script of one Diphetogo ‘Dipsy’ Selolwane’s career path, a single moment alters your whole life, forever changing the road ahead.
21 years, seven months, and four days on, that famous ‘Dipsy U-turn’ still lingers in many minds with such vividness as though it happened yesterday. The setting was Botswana’s National Stadium and it was the Cosafa Cup preliminary tie against the admired Bafana Bafana and the date was 20 February 1999.
Unheralded at the time, Selolwane was only 21 and, in football terms, still wet behind the ears. Receiving an incisive pass deep from midfield kingpin Busang Rasefako, Selolwane – without much thought – made an awe-inspiring U-turn, left his marker, Matthew Booth, for dead before unleashing a fierce thunderbolt past Brian Baloyi much to the eruption of the crowd into a deafening roar from thousands of supporters that had thronged the National Stadium.
“He scored the first goal and we had to come back and win 2-1. He was a quality player. I think after that performance he made a move,” recalls Booth, who was making his Bafana debut on the day. How would he forget such a moment? In fact, Booth, who was playing for Mamelodi Sundowns at the time, says Selolwane was “very good with his back to goal”. He also believes the U-turn nickname remains befitting many years after the goal was scored. “It’s a very good nickname to have, it suits him,” adds Booth.
The former Bafana towering defender is not the only one who vividly remembers that screamer of a goal. Francistown-based football journalist, Solo Montana Seth, describes it as “arguably the most memorable goal ever scored by the Zebras”. Frankly, it was a striking and extraordinary strike.
Seth adds that “no goal has had that kind of impact on a player’s career and life”. Of course, a much more experienced Bafana came back and were eventual 2-1 winners of the tie. But Edwin Disang, a former national teammate to Selolwane, says even a loss wasn’t enough to diminish the beauty of that goal.
“It was a special goal because we were playing guys we used to watch on television and some of the guys in our team were actually schoolboys,” Disang, based in the US, tells FARPost.
Pontsho Moloi, now interim coach of Gaborone United is fascinated by how much the name has grown. “He even has a charity registered under the name Dipsy U-turn. It was a unique goal and it put him on a pedestal,” Moloi says with warm approval.
Rightly so, bulging the net behind one mighty Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Baloyi was no mean achievement for a Botswana lad. “It was something I didn’t realise would become a part of my life and how it would impact my growth as a footballer. But it just happened, it’s not something I was thinking of and it became a trademark,” Selolwane tells FARPost from his Gaborone base.
Even more interesting, four years before that game, this is a boy who stood on the brink of being thrown off the beautiful game by an asthmatic condition. But then again, Selolwane is not the kind of guy paralyzed by obstacles life throws his way. He tends to look at setbacks and failures as learning opportunities to do better. If it were any other way, he would not have returned to the game after a forced three-year hiatus from the game when he was 14 due to an asthmatic condition.
He took a break from football as a teenager but with personified resilience he bounced back at 17 to continue dazzling his opponents with his usual ease, thanks to his football artistry. “The time I was a kid and had asthma it was really tough because I couldn’t play, my chest would be tight, and I couldn’t breathe. Those few years I was on and off. “Luckily, I was able to get onto a nice treatment programme after we found the doctor who helped me. That was the turning point,” explains the man touted as Botswana’s finest footballer of all time.
From then on, young Selolwane was firmly on the highway to success albeit with a few setbacks along the way. Exactly a year after that treasured strike, he was off to the US on a sports scholarship at the Harris-Stowe University. His years at Manchester, a feeder side to Premiership outfit Notwane FC, in the early 90s, prepared him for all that was to come. He also got a run at Arm City, later renamed UB Hawks. It was at UB Hawks that Selolwane got to taste the bustle of schematic football development structures under the tutelage of Michael Gaborone.
Having grown up in a Gaborone United demented family, it only made sense for Selolwane to join the club in 1997. Of course, he came close to joining crosstown rivals Township Rollers in what would have been the highest level of treachery.
While in the US, he played college football and scored a school record of 35 goals within a year. Subsequently, he was named Conference Freshman of the Year. Things, football-wise, even got better the following year as he moved to St Louis University College where he was rewarded for his stunning performances after taking the US by storm.
He collected a series of accolades including being named in the first team All-America by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), finalist for the Missouri Athletic Club’s national Player of the Year award, C-USA’s Player of the Year and Most Valuable Forward. As if that was not enough for a college football novice, he raked in the C-USA’s Offensive Player of the Week award after netting a double brace against South Florida and was eventually named in the SLU’s Nike Classic Team of the Tournament.
“Dipsy was an exceptional one-two punch for us this year and his national team experience combined with his instinctive play made him unpredictable. He also integrated his wonderful individual skills into our team concept incredibly well,” St Louis head coach Dan Donigan said at the time.
His 54 conference points were the college’s best ever total since Matt McKeon’s same tally in 1995 and tied for seventh all-time on the St Louis single season list.
In 2001, he became an inspiration to his countrymen that no mountain was too high to climb by becoming the first Motswana to break through the European professional football ranks. He turned out for five-time Danish champions Vejle BK. The following year, he returned to the US to join Chicago Fire and after a full first season in the Major Soccer League, Selolwane made the headlines after he scored the quickest MLS Goal of the Season. The goal came after only 3 minutes against Doctor Khumalo’s former club Columbus Crew though they lost the game 6-2.
His last port of call in the US was Real Salt Lake and then he returned to Africa. The 2005/2006 season marked his arrival in South Africa as he made Santos his new home. Again, he instantly set the league alight, netting 13 goals in 45 appearances for the Cape Town side.
His next stop was a brief spell with Jomo Cosmos and then he was back to the Mother City, this time linking up with Ajax Cape Town where he got converted to a midfielder and arguably had the best ever three seasons of his entire football career.
“My best time came at Ajax where I played a different role from what I was used to. I was not an out and out striker, but I enjoyed my football,” he says.
His eye for goal skill always came in handy for the Botswana national team as he often rescued the Zebras in international matches. Selolwane was a vital cog in the team that took the diamond-rich nation to its maiden AFCON finals in 2012 after an unbeaten run that saw them flooring African football powerhouses such as Tunisia and Togo.
At the finals, when the Zebras were awarded a penalty, coach Stanley Tshosane would not trust anyone with the responsibility to bury it. U-turn confidently stood up and faced Guinea goalkeeper Naby-Moussa Yattara to score the first ever Zebras goal at the AFCON finals after a retake.
At the time, he was now turning out for SuperSport United before winding down his career with Pretoria University.
Now, with his Dipsy Selolwane Football Academy (DSFA), he has set his sights on producing not just top footballers, but “men of substance”.
“We want to produce players that are holistic, not just footballers, but good human beings who care about the world and its surroundings and their families,” he says.
While he says it’s humbling to realise people haven’t forgotten and may never forget that U-turn goal, he now wants to leave a lasting impression on the youngsters he is mentoring at DSFA.
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By Mthokozisi Dube