Passion, dedication and commitment describe the character of Ntate Petrus ‘Whitehead’ Molemela, the founder and Life President of Bloemfontein Celtic. It is easy to state this considering the similarities of the journey we have both travelled to create household names like Kaizer Chiefs and Bloemfontein Celtic. Perhaps this is the reason for accepting an invitation to pen this letter in a book that simply tells his story.
Ntate Molemela’s contribution to football in the Free State Province and South Africa should be celebrated as a worthy achievement from the moment he took ownership of Bloemfontein Celtic. At that time, Mangaung United was primed as representative of the then Orange Free State in the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) and had done so with gusto to give the Transvaal based teams a run for their worth. One is immediately drawn to the likes of Ephraim “Never-My-Love” Malikhetla, and Ronnie Malefetse, a prominent goalkeeper, who held his own against the likes of Patson Kamuzu Banda and Joseph Banks Setlhodi of Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs respectively.
Ntate Molemela stood at the centre of the success of this giant team and steered its stubborn evolution into the National Soccer League and modern-day Professional Soccer League. Like some of us, he would often draw resources from some of his business ventures to bankroll a vision of a Free State brand that he so loved and protected with his life just to sustain its campaign in top-flight football.
At some extreme moments, Ntate Molemela would sit on the bench as one of the technical team members which demonstrated his passion in encouraging the team to win at all costs. Although this did not go down well with some head coaches, there would be nothing they could do with the flamboyant elderly man who believed in a team that was credible to upset the most fancied in either a league or cup competition.
Clad in a green coat and huge cowboy hat, and of course with a walking stick in hand, he would wave and smile in front of the television cameras and shake his players’ hands before the start of any game.
Assuming the name Siwelele Sa Masele, the current Bloemfontein Celtic supporters are a result of this creation by a man who ensured the longevity of a team that has now become the pride of the entire province and not just a group of Bloemfontein residents that had initially rallied behind Mangaung United. Some young supporters knew the wrath of his stick when they went out of their way to disrespect Ntate Molemela when the odds seemed stacked against them. This was obviously done to protect players from irate supporters who were often irrational in their judgement of the performance of the team, much to his annoyance.
As part of the Bloemfontein Celtic family, Ntate Molemela shot from the hip and was never shy to express both praise and condemnation at any crucial moments when fate, regardless of the cause, seemed to affect his team. One would have lost count the number of times he had been hauled before disciplinary committees for expressing his feelings in seeking justice and fairness more than anything else.
Today Bloemfontein Celtic has influenced and galvanised the entire province to stand behind its cause. Their team enjoys support of a multicultural nature, a sign that crowns Ntate Molemela as being so enigmatic that he has been able to champion a cause of uniting people across races to literally own the Bloemfontein Celtic brand at any given time. There is no doubt that the passionate chanting supporters, that have won accolades, are now a strong force that intimidate any opposition with the patriotic enthusiasm they display before and long after the final whistle.