Mogogi Gabonamong at Afcon

Mogogi Gabonamong: Legend who turned to farming after retirement

Home » Mogogi Gabonamong: Legend who turned to farming after retirement

While your ordinary diski prince is known to chase the glitz and glamour, Mogogi Gabonamong was busy preparing for life after football, investing in his farming business.

Growing up in Mmutlane, a village in eastern Botswana, some 222km from the capital Gaborone, Gabonamong, who boasts the most appearances by a Motswana in the PSL, saw his dad rear cattle.

The man who gave him his international breakthrough at 16, making him the youngest MoTswana to turn out for the national team, just knew he would reunite with his farming passion once he hung up his boots.

“Mogogi grew up close to his father, who was a cattle farmer, and he ended up adopting the same as his dad. He is now a cattle farmer,” the late former Botswana national team coach, David Bright, previously said.

Gabonamong, who captained every club he played for in South Africa – from Cape Town Santos to SuperSport United in Pretoria and then Bloemfontein Celtic in the Free State – retired from the beautiful game at the end of the 2016/17 season.

With his wealth of experience, also garnered in Trinidad & Tobago, and a short stint at the Manchester United development side, many would have expected him to vie for a football coaching or administration position.

But the man popularly known as Gino packed his bags and returned to the farm, located 30 km northwest of Mahalapye. Mahalapye is a town with about 41,000 inhabitants and is situated along the main road between the capital Gaborone and the second-largest city Francistown.

“It’s the family’s ancestral land,” his wife, a South African football journalist, Tumi Gabonamong, says.
She reveals that the 40-year-old saved up early in his career to buy his first cow, signaling that was the direction he would take after football.

In Botswana, a diamond-rich nation, livestock accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s agricultural earnings. Botswana’s opposition leader, Duma Boko, has previously claimed that the country has “one and half times more cattle than people”.

Of course, his statement needed to be more accurate, with the last census estimating that the country, bordered by Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, had 2.1 million inhabitants. The country’s livestock population is also estimated to be slightly above 2 million.

“For a Motswana, a cow is life,” adds Tumi. So, it all made sense when one of the first things he bought with his football earnings was a cow. She tells a story of how in 2011, after receiving a signing-on fee following his move from Santos, he bought a tractor to be used at the farm.

“When footballers get a signing-on fee, most think, ‘ I need to get a nice new car’. He was shopping for tractors and eventually got one in Brits, about 60km from Pretoria. Then after training, he did the paperwork and drove to the border (about 350km), following the truck that was taking it to Gaborone.

He had to get it cleared by customs, and then he drove back in time to attend training the following morning,” she says.


Gabonamong’s former international teammate Pontsho Moloi says that during their travels, the steely defensive midfielder would carry a popular South African farming magazine, Weekly Farmer.

“Gino is generally quiet, so he’d sit alone and enjoy reading his farming magazine. Everyone knew he was passionate about farming,” says Moloi, who is currently the coach of Gaborone United.

He adds that straight after national team camps, he would head to the farm all the time unless he needed to report for club duty immediately.

Interestingly, his wife says maintaining his passion for what he loves despite it being unfashionable among footballers is one of the things that won her over.

“From the onset, our conversations were so real. He was himself; he was not embarrassed to talk about farming. When you’re part of an industry like football, some players would have easily said, ‘let me find a new hobby that’s cool’,” she says.

And she recalls how he would tell her about teammates who made fun of his passion. But that never moved him.

When it came to playing, Gabonamong was equally passionate and exceptional. No wonder the endless list of footballing firsts that follow the mention of his name on either side of the Ramatlabama border, located on the southern end of Botswana’s A1 highway and the northern end of South Africa’s N18.

Deservedly, his senior national team debut came at just 16 years old in a Cosafa Cup tie between Bafana Bafana and Botswana’s Zebras in Gaborone on 20 February 1999.

“His technique was not so good, so I deployed him in a man-marking role in a 3-5-2 formation. I picked up that he was a youngster who took instructions and was committed and focused in every game,” Bright previously said.

Although the Zebras succumbed to a narrow 2-1 defeat on his debut, a star had been born.
His United States-based former teammate and camp roommate, Edwin Disang, said Gino’s performance was a bold announcement of his arrival on the international football scene.

“He did a great job for an amateur, young player. He was only 16, and Pollen Ndlanya (former Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana striker) was already a professional player,” says Disang from his Florida base.
After that, Gabonamong became the first Motswana player to be used across all national teams – Under 17, Under 20, Under 23 and the senior team – simultaneously.

“I juggled from camp to camp for months on end. I’d leave after an Under 23 camp to go and join the Under 20s. Sometimes I’d have transport waiting to take me to the next camp. It was fun,” says the soft-spoken Gabonamong.

His love for football sometimes landed him in trouble at home as a child. His parents would give him a hiding when he came dirty because of football. But it all made sense when he was part of the Botswana team that qualified for the 2012 Afcon that was subsequently named Caf Team of the Year after an unbeaten run in the qualifiers.

Mogogi Gabonamong recalls visit to Manchester United

He recalls a visit to Manchester United that changed his outlook on football at 16.

“The time I spent on a training attachment at Manchester United was eye-opening. Even though nothing materialised, it made me a better person and player. I was 16, just a village boy, seeing a world-class facility for the first time and players I only knew from posters.”

He’ll never forget how he was shaking when he saw David Beckham, Andy Cole, and Sir Alex Ferguson.
“I trained with John O’Shea at the development side,” says the man nicknamed Manchester United.

Disang, who met Gabonamong in 1997 at the Under 17 national team, remembers something funny about their time in Manchester.

“We stayed with a family there, and they just knew Gino loved tea. He’d drink his tea. Now that I remember, when we travelled for games at the hotels, he’d finish those tea bags they allocate,” he says.
While he was star-struck by the top players he saw at the Red Devils, it wasn’t enough to convert him into a Man U fan.

Instead, the revered former defensive midfielder reveals that he bought an oversized Liverpool jersey in Manchester.

“I’m not a Manchester United fan. Maybe if I had played for them, I would have liked it. Funny thing, I bought an oversized Liverpool t-shirt when I was there. I still have it,” he says.

In only his second season at Santos in the South Africa Premier League, he was handed the captain’s armband. SuperSport United, his next home in 2011, also entrusted him with the captaincy and Bloemfontein Celtic, the last PSL club he played for before returning home to wind up his distinguished career at Township Rollers.

He remains the only Motswana to have led a South Africa PSL club in a cup final. He captained SuperSport in a Nedbank Cup final in the 2012/13 season against Kaizer Chiefs, a match he singles out “as the most painful game I lost with the armband on”.

The Pretoria club had won the final the previous season after beating Mamelodi Sundowns 2-0 at Orlando Stadium with Gabonamong part of the team.

Besides the Nedbank Cup triumph and two League titles in Botswana with army side Mogoditshane Fighters and Township Rollers, he boasts several individual accolades on either side of the border. He was named Player of the Season in the 2008/09 term while playing for Santos alongside former Kenya captain Musa Otieno. In 2017, he was awarded the Presidential Certificate, given to Batswana, who excel in different endeavours by the head of state. He also received the Botswana Premier League Chairperson’s award the same year.

And after hanging his boots in 2017, Gabonamong is out to ensure his farming business equally blooms just as his football career did.

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