JOHANNESBURG - Thato Lingwati is driven by more than football to lead Jomo Cosmos back into top-flight football after two years in the National First Division.
The 25-year-old’s daughter passed away on Friday, two days before he led Ezenkosi to a dramatic 2-2 draw with Black Leopards in the promotion play-offs at Vosloorus Stadium.
Leopards looked destined to return to the elite league against Cosmos, leading 2-1 going into the last 30 minutes, after beating Platinum Stars 1-0 in the opening match of the play-offs. But Lingwati had other ideas, popping up in the dying seconds to rescue the match for Ezenkosi and turn the three-team mini-league into a contest.
“It took a lot for me to come and play against Leopards on Sunday,” Lingwati said. “That goal was a blessing for me; it helped the team get a point and it meant a lot emotionally because of what I am going through.
"I was doing it for her. I came here because I had to be professional. The team needed me. I am a professional employed by Jomo (Sono). He needed me. I had to come and play.”
Lingwati grieved properly on Tuesday and then quickly focused on the job at hand, which is to get a win over Dikwena on Wednesday night at Moruleng Stadium.
These play-offs are therapeutic for Lingwati, offering him a distraction to what he is going through personally by focusing on taking Ezenkosi back into the PSL. He was part of the team relegated to the NFD two years ago.
“It’s been tough, bra, I won’t lie,” he said. “Here in the NFD, you have to grind and grind. It’s not easy. That’s why we want to come back to the PSL. That’s why we had to get an equaliser against Leopards. They were running away with it. If they had won this game, it was over for us. We had to fight, get a draw and take it from there.”
Lingwati is something of a veteran at Cosmos. He was at the club for five years before he was given the captain's armband in January following the departure of Linda Mntambo to Chippa United.
In the five years he has been at Cosmos, he has had a number of fights with owner/coach Sono. “When I started here it was tough,” he said.
“I started with the team in the NFD, played two seasons, and then we got promoted to the PSL. I was still new to the PSL set-up, I made a lot of mistakes.
"I fought with the big boss so many times. I took it in a positive light. I knew that him fighting with me is a sign that, 'boy you have it in you'.
"You just have to show your full potential. He was patient with me. He took me out and he eventually gave me a chance to prove myself.
"When he gave me the armband, he told me you can carry the team on your shoulders and lead this team to the PSL.”