IN the beginning, we used to watch Big League Soccer on television — a weekly highlights package show — which showcased the best there was about English football.
Back in the ‘80s when the likes of Bryan Robson, Kenny Daglish, Bruce Grobbelaar, Frank Stapleton, Ian Rush, John Barnes, Norman Whiteside, Gary Lineker and Glenn Hoddle — were some of the stars.
My late father had invested in a television, the one where you would use a knob on the right to search for the only channel it showed, ZTV, and back then it was such a prestigious and priceless item of property it used to give some bragging rights for those who had it at home.
My late elder brother, in particular, found it very fashionable, in those days of our childhood innocence, to always brag about our television.
Mum even had a special cloth knitted by the community’s best tailor which she would, every night, use to cover our television just before we all retired to bed to ensure it would not be scratched by crawling pests.
Mukadota Family was popular back then, Mai Rwizi was such a figure of innocence she reminded us of mum and Mai Phineas was a symbol of raw beauty which, even for us in those days of our innocence, used to drill its powers of attraction into us.
Every time she smiled, or laughed, with her sparkling eyes that used to explode with the laughter, it triggered a chemistry that would illuminate the living room and in that moment we would all find some warmth and happiness nothing seemed to matter much.
Because the televisions were far and few between in our neighbourhood back in those days, mum would ensure the curtains to the living room were drawn backwards to make sure many of our neighbours would get a chance, through the windows, to watch the show from outside.
But for all the magic of Mukadota, probably the greatest television series ever produced by Zimbabweans for Zimbabweans, with its weight measured in the same gold colours that have made Mazoe such a big part of our lives we even go into rebellion when they change its taste and look, there was something I picked out back then.
That there was something special, in terms of appeal, about football and while Mukadota and his family would bring the house down in our neighbourhood, Big League Soccer tended to have a special audience week in and week out.
Maybe the fact that ours was a community where football was a part of our lives, a refreshing divorce from a life where the majority of our parents and brothers’ daily grinds were an eight hour underground search for gold where there were no guarantees they would return alive, helped make this game very special.
Officially, our team was called Falcon Gold, but we called it Bwela Ufe, which in the dominant Chewa language of a community made up mostly of Malawian and Zambian immigrants meant ‘Come and Die’, because we rarely lost at home, no matter the opposition, no matter the circumstances.
Football ran in our veins and that probably also explained why the weekly Big League Soccer programme was immensely popular that dozens of our community members would make the weekly pilgrimage to our house to get a chance to see the action.
Some, like Mudhara Mwanza, whose son David, the bearded one whom they later nicknamed Chikwama, would become a star good enough to play for Warriors, always had a front row seat to the action, sitting on one of the sofas and watching from inside the living room.
Others had to find spots outside the house and peep through the window, whose curtains — just like on the occasions the Mukadota Family show or Mvengemvenge were being screened — would be drawn out to provide them with a chance to get a glimpse of the magic from the little box.
We all had our favourite teams and even though Manchester United didn’t win as many games as became the case under the Ferguson revolution after it first started to gain steam in ‘93, I had long chosen the Red Devils as my team.
Liverpool were very popular, primarily because they used to dominate the scene, and also because they had in their ranks a player, Bruce Grobbelaar, which the locals identified with as the boy from Bulawayo who had made it into the big time.
From those humble beginnings, for many of them, a fascinating love affair with English football, which would grow with the passage of time to become virtually a religion whose stars were transformed into some kind of saints, started.
With time, satellite television came along and proved a game-changer.
And where we used to watch just one weekly highlights package show of English football, we now could watch many games, including live matches, and the number of television sets in the community had also increased with virtually every household having its own box.
With it also came challenges for the domestic Premiership as it lost some of its patronage.
Where Dynamos used to average 30 000, back in the days when it was normal for Rufaro to be packed for every match in the ‘80s, now they struggle to get even 5 000 to their home matches as thousands have become Facebook fans who only follow the team on social or mainstream media.
Where Highlanders used to average 30 000, back in the days when it was normal for Barbourfields to be packed for every match, now they struggle to get 5 000 to their home matches as thousands choose to stay away.
The majority now discuss their team’s progress and trials and tribulations on WhatsApp groups and choose to watch the English Premiership because they tell you that is where the real football is played.
Last night, the first shots of another marathon of the English Premiership were fired when my beloved
Manchester United took on Leicester City at Old Trafford.
Today a number of matches are lined up on the traditional day where most of the league’s matches are played and, from this weekend, it will be full throttle until a winner is declared in May next year.
For many, it’s the return of something that has, just like Facebook and Twitter, now become a huge part of their lives and the months when the Premiership is on its annual summer break it annoys them a lot.
They feel a kind of emptiness to their lives, not getting a chance to watch their favourite teams and players in action and not getting a chance to mock their rivals on the occasions the teams those people support don’t do well. It has become an annual ritual, we even scramble to order the new kits which our clubs would have unveiled for the season, itself a money-making venture which has made those teams richer and richer, Manchester United is now valued at more than $4 billion, second only to the Dallas Cowboys, in terms of value.
But all this undiluted passion we direct towards these teams, celebrating off-shore heroes the majority of us might never meet in our lifetimes, whose stadiums the majority of us will never go in our lifetimes, has come at a huge cost to our domestic Premiership.
It has complicated matters for what in the past used to be a beautiful romance between us and our domestic league where we would go to the stadiums in our thousands to watch our local heroes and support our local teams.
Now, many of us have turned their backs on local football with the majority saying the standards have plummeted because they tend to compare what they see at Rufaro or Barbourfields and other places, on the occasions they go there, to what they see on television being beamed from the fields of the English Premiership.
A few weeks ago, two United States-based DeMbare fans, Praise Zenenga and Douglas Mpondi — who were back home on vacation, were shocked by the poor turnout they saw at Rufaro when they decided to go there for another romantic fling with their old club.
A huge constituency which, in the past, would not miss a match featuring Dynamos, Highlanders or CAPS United, has been lost to this English football revolution and they even tell you that they have never been to a local stadium in years.
They would rather watch Pogba instead of Chipunza, watch Mahrez rather than Mabvura, watch Vardy instead of Kumwala, watch Allisson rather than Dube, watch Willian instead of any midfielder in the domestic Premiership and watch De Bruyne rather than anyone that the local league can give them as its star attraction.
The statistics paint a horror picture of a domestic league that is dying, being slowly choked by the growing attraction of the English Premiership, being suffocated by the relentless appeal of a league that has cast its spell around the world and being swallowed by a giant whose appeal and strength knows no bounds.
Last year, only 441 000 fans watched the domestic Premiership, the lowest combined number of fans to watch the league in history, and given that there are 18 teams now, you get an average of about 763 fans per every match that was played in the local league.
Manchester United, who draw 76 000 to every home game that they play, will have more fans, coming to Old Trafford, in just their first six games than the combined number of fans who watched all the domestic Premiership matches last year.
In the past six years, the domestic Premiership has lost more than 200 000 fans, which means that a third of the constituency that used to go and watch local football, has turned its back on the game and, unfortunately, it’s getting worse and worse with each passing year.
WE ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES BEING DEVOURED BY THIS ENGLISH FOOTBALL TSUNAMI
The trail of disaster being left by this English football hurricane is not only confined to the Zimbabwe Premiership as the Nigerian domestic league has also been virtually destroyed, when you consider attendance figures, and no one in the continent’s most populous country now even care to go and watch the local matches.
They even celebrate Arsenal Day in Kogi State in Nigeria, where the Gunners fans come for a two-day celebration of their beloved English team. They all wear the red-and-white Arsenal colours, sing songs, dance and eat in a festival of happiness in celebration of the Gunners and there are more than 20 000 registered members of the group.
The Nigerians are not alone in this dilemma because, all over West, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, the effect of this English football revolution is being felt.
“We prepare and come to play to honour our fixtures without expecting much from fans because they no longer come to stadiums,’’ Djibril Drame, who was the coach of Malian champions Stade Malien, told Goal.com.
“Our teams and the league cannot improve in this condition. It’s making life difficult for every club in Africa.”
Journalist Kingsley Kobo wrote an authoritative piece on this.
“Countless African football fans are able to name nearly all of the players from most of Europe’s elite clubs and even give clear details about their career, but ask them to name the first XI of their country’s top club, and they will fumble, blush and give you maybe two or three names, without any knowledge of the players’ ages or where they were bought from,’’ he wrote for Goal.com.
“Club proprietors, football federations and ministries of sport across the continent are aware of the ebbing interest and enthusiasm for the domestic leagues, engendered by the growing attention for the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and French Ligue 1.
“The professionalisation of African leagues experimented by a number of countries is yet to yield envisaged results and lure back traditional supporters, who remain hooked on football action unfolding far away from their shores, which could keep the domestic leagues on the decline for the five reasons listed below.
“During matchdays, formerly staunch supporters gather at vibrant pubs to watch games of their favourite European teams on wide screens, forgetting the derby playing at a stadium nearby. Instead of spending $3 attending a game of unknown players, investing it to watch Arsenal or Chelsea while drinking cold beer with friends seems more ideal.
“Clubs continue to register low attendances and scanty subscriptions from fans at matches that do not involve big derbies or cup finals. Recently, 42 people were counted at a stadium in Senegal during a division one match. During a game in Accra, Ghana, 117 made the journey to the match while 29 were at a venue in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
“The craze over English football (in Uganda) contrasts sharply with the local game. Only the previous month, two of the country’s top clubs, Police and URA, had met in a key Ugandan Super League match at the 40,000–seater Namboole stadium in the capital Kampala.
“According to John Vianney Nsimbe, who covers the league for Uganda’s Observer newspaper, barely 100 fans watched the game. Bigger matches – for example those between traditional giants Express and Kampala City Council (KCC) or SC Villa may have between 1,000 and 3,000 fans in the stadium.
“Still, 10 or 15 years ago, such big league games attracted 15,000 or more spectators.’’
Maybe, on reflection, I should have known, back then when Big League Soccer used to attract that passionate crowd which used to watch through the window of my parents’ house in the ‘80s.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Khamaldinhoooooooooooooooooo!
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