Larsen happy to wear ‘underdog’ tag as he prepares for Premiership football with Magesi

Published May 11, 2024


CLINTON Larsen’s voice cracks a bit as he reflects on his journey from being a poor kid growing up in tough, drug-infested, gang-run Wentworth to the championship-winning coach he is now.

He gets even more emotional when he speaks of having had to live apart from his wife, daughter and granddaughter – seeing them only intermittently as he endured the life of a bachelor out in Polokwane over the past 15 months.

But with the taste of sweet victory still fresh after he led Magesi FC to winning the Motsepe Foundation Championship, earning them automatic promotion to the DStv Premiership, the 53-year-old’s glee is palpable.

“Oh wow, football saved me,” he beams. “Just recently, I was asked to give a motivational talk at my former high school in Wentworth, and I spoke of how I used to be chased by gangsters wielding knives and pangas on my way to training.

“So many of the boys I grew up with ended up dying through gangsterism or drugs, and even some stabbed to death. I am here still largely because of football.”

It is three days since Magesi beat Milford FC 3-1 to reach an unassailable 55 points atop the National First Division (NFD) table with two matches to spare, and Larsen is getting ready to lead his champions in a friendly match against Tzaneen United at the Noordelikes Rugby Club field in the Limpopo capital.

“We’ve got to continue doing what we’ve been doing until we complete the season. My players know that there can be no slacking even after the objective has been achieved,” he tells me as we walk away from the players to the quiet of the pitch for the interview.

“It has sunk in,” he says of the promotion. “The very next day we got to start preparing for the PSL, it has got to sink in. Work started after we played Milford, preparing for the PSL and contacting players that we need to strengthen the team and booking our pre-season facilities. So, all the logistics are currently being addressed.”

It was because of this proper planning that Magesi FC got to earn promotion just two seasons after returning to the NFD, having been relegated back in 2015. And Larsen looks back at it all and acknowledges that the success he is enjoying would probably not have happened were it not for where he comes from, the hardships he endured growing up and the coaches he worked with in his playing days.

Describing the success as the greatest feat of a coaching career that began back in 2003 when he retired, the man who won league championships with Manning Rangers and Orlando Pirates took pride in describing himself as an underdog based on his background.

“Growing up in Wentworth I was surrounded by gangsterism in a drug-ridden area and the poverty at home – because there were times when my mom and dad were unemployed and we’d sometimes go to bed hungry unless we got groceries donated to us from the church. Hard as we had it, my parents were strict as well and they did not allow me and my two siblings to get caught up and involved in that (drugs and gangsterism). So I grew up knowing I had to work hard to make it.”

And make it he did, with Larsen becoming a professional and playing for championship-winning sides in an illustrious career that even saw him don the country’s senior national team jersey on two occasions. He became a coach while still playing, as he became the technical head of his agent Mike Makaab’s Bootlaces Academy.

Upon retiring from the elite league he joined Durban Stars as player coach. He has since been in charge of the likes of Bloemfontein Celtic, with whom he won the Telkom Knockout, as well as Golden Arrows, Maritzburg United, Chippa United and Polokwane City.

“I always knew that I’d go into coaching. And because I see myself as an underdog, I love these small projects (of coaching unheralded clubs). It just makes the victories so much sweeter when you are an underdog and beat the so-called bigger teams. For me, if I had a choice to coach a bigger team or a smaller team, I will always go with the smaller team,” said the man who had been coaching third tier side Summerfield Dynamos before Magesi came calling in need of rescuing mid last season.

He did not only rescue them; Larsen brought the team from Moletjie in Polokwane their greatest achievement ever – taking them up to the country’s elite league. It is a feat he rates as the best of his coaching career, bigger even than the Telkom Knockout success with Celtic.

It came at a personal cost though, Larsen having had to part with his family who stayed behind in Durban.

“Look, it’s been very hard. My daughter is in matric and we are very close so coming here and being apart from her is the biggest sacrifice I’ve had to make. When she was younger and I worked in Bloemfontein she went to school there.

“But I could not uproot her this time given she was going into matric the following year. My wife could have come here with me because she can work from anywhere. But she could not leave our daughter behind.

“And I also have a granddaughter – aaah, the light in my life – and when I was in Durban it was my duty as a grandparent to pick her up from school. It became such a routine that she looked forward to those moments and so it broke her heart when I moved here and could no longer do it. She is getting older and beginning to understand why I had to move.”

Magesi winning the championship has sort of made up for all that.

“We made a sacrifice as a family with me taking up this project and I think I’ve only been to Durban six or seven times since I came here. Our programme did not always allow me to go home. But this success makes me so happy for my family that this sacrifice is worth it. They are very happy for me and with my daughter completing matric in December so this is going to be a special year for us as a family.”

And he will no doubt always be a special man for Magesi FC and everyone associated with the club for having helped them gain promotion to the elite league.