JOHANNESBURG – The disappointment and heartache Thabo Qalinge has suffered in his career and what he has witnessed growing up in Soweto makes him approach fame and success with caution.
“Section 10”, as the Orlando Pirates midfielder is affectionately known, has been a revelation for the Buccaneers this season. He has become a consistent match winner with his goals and assists.
Tonight he will make his 12th appearance for Bucs in their Telkom Knockout quarter-final against Polokwane City at Orlando Stadium to match the number of appearances he made in the last campaign just three months into this season.
“I knew what would happen here when I arrived,” Qalinge said.
“In a big team, things don’t always go your way. I knew there would be difficult times and there would be great times. I think coming with that mind-set helped me because I knew that I wouldn’t just walk into the starting XI.
"I knew I would spend some time not playing, fighting for my place. The biggest challenge was dealing with that. Since I expected it, it was better.”
Qalinge hasn’t always been this assured of himself or his career as his dream of being a professional footballer almost ended before it started.
The 26-year-old signed for SuperSport United five years ago in what looked like his big break, but he broke his arm before he even kicked a ball in a competitive match for Matsatsantsa a Pitori.
His only memory of being with the Tshwane side is in the training kit he wore. That disappointment toughened Qalinge and shaped him into a person who isn’t quick to celebrate small victories.
“I grew up in a township. I have seen people reach the top and then come crashing down. I don’t want to fall into that trap too," he said.
"When things are going well, you have to be humble and just keep working hard because you can always improve
"I know that as someone from the township, I must give people hope. Where I come from, people look up to us so I have to do the right things. That’s motivation to not get carried away by this good start but keep improving.”
The Buccaneers would do well to listen to that message and not get carried away by their bright start as it hasn’t given them anything.
The Knockout is a chance for Pirates to end a three-year trophy drought, but it will take some doing to get past Rise and Shine.
Polokwane held Bucs to a 2-2 draw right after beating Mamelodi Sundowns in their own backyard and before holding Kaizer Chiefs to a goalless draw this week.
Polokwane are the only team Pirates have managed to score twice against. Their striking unit is yet to be lethal.
After being humbled by Sundowns on Wednesday, Pirates are driven to give "The Ghost" something to cheer about.
“As a team, we are trying to go all out and play our lungs out for our supporters,” Qalinge said.
“We want to at least win something for them. We haven’t won a trophy in a long time.
“It would be nice to give them something to celebrate and something positive to talk about because for a long time they’ve listened to the other fans talking about their achievements.
"It’s sad but the motivation is that even when we weren’t winning, they came to support us.
“That shows that they love us because if they were just football fans, they would have stopped coming here. We want to make them happy and repay them for the faith they have put in us.”