blow my whistle

Despite being "confronted" by some of his pupils on some of his decisions in class on Mondays, Enock Molefe is fascinated by their interest in soccer.

Despite being "confronted" by some of his pupils on some of his decisions in class on Mondays, Enock Molefe is fascinated by their interest in soccer.

For the record, Molefe is a Fifa-sanctioned assistant referee who is an educator at Tsoseletso High School in Manguang in the Free State.

Molefe became the first South African to officiate in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations with his appointment in Ghana two weeks ago in the match between Egypt and Cameroon.

The achievement saw him being shortlisted as one of the candidate assistant referees for the 2010 World Cup by the world governing soccer body.

Sowetan sports writer Ramatsiyi Moholoa caught up with the articulate Molefe on his background, successes, dealings with his pupils and future plans.

Ramatsiyi Moholoa (RM): Naturally,it is only fair to kick off our interview by congratulating you on a job well done in Ghana.

What did it feel like when the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced the panel of match officials for the final?

Enock Molefe (EM): Thank you and it is much appreciated. I know it is rare for us (referees) to be interviewed, unless there are controversies.

I felt great to have reached the highest level of soccer on the continent. It was also fulfilling because I handled one of the semifinals in Egypt in 2006.

RM: People and teams always have ambitions when they go to major competitions, what was yours when you boarded the flight to Ghana?

EM: To be one of the participants and also do well. Being in the final was the cherry on top since it enhanced my chances of being in the 2010 World Cup.

RM: You received a congratulatory telephone call from President Thabo Mbeki for hoisting the South African flag high in Ghana. You must have been on cloud nine.

EM: I could not believe it when I heard his voice on the other side of the line.

He wished me good luck on behalf of South Africans and commended Jerome Damon (referee, who handled the third place play off) and me for a job well done.

It is rare for match officials to get a call from the president. We always read about it happening to Bafana Bafana, Amabhokobhoko and other national teams.

I was very excited to get a call from the president it spurred me on during the match.

RM: In your illustrious refereeing career, which one would you say was the most memorable game?

EM: The final in Ghana is one of them, but I think the semifinal during the 2006 tournament in Egypt between Nigeria and Egypt is the best to date.

The Ivory Coast were playing against Nigeria in that game. Didier Drogba launched an attack from the flank, where I operated, and went on to score the only goal of the game.

It was deemed to be offside by many people, but I was vindicated by the referees' committee who announced that I was spot on not raising the flag.

It was a huge relief for me, though I knew from the start that I was right.

RM: Are there any other major global competitions you have handled?

EM: Yes, there are countless qualifiers for the World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations. I have also done many continental club competitions.

In 2003 in Swaziland, I was one of the assistant referees at the Africa Under-17 Championships where I also went as far as the third-place playoff.

In the same year, I was at the World Under-17 Championships where I officiated in the group stages and the same thing happened in Peru in 2005.

At the World Club Championships in Japan in 2006, I was in the third-place playoff. One must just continue working hard so that I can be in the 2010 World Cup panel.

RM: Following the announcement ofvarious incentives in the Premiership for clubs and players, several people said aggressive incentives should be announced for referees too.

What is your feeling on the matter?

EM: I have always maintained that referees should be treated equally. There won't be any games without match officials.

What we are getting as match officials in South Africa is not even half or a quarter of what the players take home.

Even if they don't give us the same as the players, they should at least meet us half- way. The success of a game is determined by a good referee.

Jerome and I rub shoulders with some of professional or semi-professional match officials globally, where we talk about a variety of issues.

It is fulfilling for us to realise that we are better than some of the officials who are full-time professionals or semi-professionals in their countries.

There is no doubt that we will have more good referees in South Africa if we introduce a professional body to run their affairs.

RM: What do you teach at school?

EM: A vernacular language (Sesotho).At a party to congratulate and welcomeme back from Ghana, pupils in my class were shocked about my command of English.

I speak the vernacular in my class. There is no other language that we use and all the pupils know that I don't compromise on that one.

As for English, it is one of the two languages that Fifa insist must be spoken. The reports are also written in English.

RM: Still talking about your class, what is it like on Mondays after you officiated in a game shown live on television?

EM: The first few minutes students talk about soccer, confront me on some of the decisions that did not favour the clubs where I made a decision.

They include offsides or disallowed goals, but it is just for a few seconds. Once we get down to the business of the day, what happened during the games is history.

What I love about those few seconds of discussion is their interest in soccer.

RM: I was once a pupil at high school, I know that many youngsters like to give and impose nicknames to their teachers, who at times are not aware of them.

EM: (Laughing for few seconds) I know, but the only nickname that I have is "The Great". It was given to me when I was still playing soccer and followed me to work.

I used to play as a goalie, defender and striker, but was never a great midfielder. I also served as captain, both at school and at club level.

I still play for the teachers' team in our area. You won't believe that after the tournament in Ghana, they now call me "The Greatest".

My colleague Sello Nduna (Bloemfontein Celtic PRO) is called "Legend", while David Vilakazi (former Free State Stars player, who has since left the school) was known as "Villa".

RM: What is it like to work with Nduna, especially if Celtic happen to lose a game in which you were involved?

EM: We are professionals. Where there was good behaviour, I will commend his club. I will also criticise in the event of bad behaviour.

RM: Who are some of the big names that you taught?

EM: It's a long list, which include the likes of "Fire" (Abram) Raselemane, Sello Khabo, Thabiso "Stix" Ntloana and first black netball senior national team captain, Martha Mosoahle.

RM: I have read that you played soccer with and against big names such as Benjamin Reed, Lucas "Maradona" Skosana and Simon Gopane. Why did you call it a day and take up refereeing?

EM: I played soccer for a club known as Toronto Kicks. Some of the guys I played with and against include Ishmael Mokitlane and Jeffrey Lekgetla.

At the time I developed an interest in refereeing when Toronto went to the then NSL Third Division.

I could not play and referee in the same league, so I opted to become a referee. There are no regrets, especially if you consider that the guys I played with have all retired.

I would also have retired now had I continued playing soccer.

RM: In conclusion, what are your ambitions as an assistant referee?

EM: Now that I have officiated at the highest level on the continent, the plan is to be in the final in the 2010 World Cup on home soil.