ZIMBABWE’S domestic football season comes to an end amidst another low point, a dull drawn match that lacked emotion and passion a fortnight ago between the country’s two biggest clubs.
When the iconic Zimbabwe Derby between Dynamos and Highlanders is played before a paultry crowd, no matter what the circumstance, it is further sign that the game of football is indeed losing its soul in this country.
This stood in sharp contrast with the hype across the border, in South Africa, where fans are often criticised for staying away from stadiums.
On the same weekend as the Dynamos-Highlanders clash, South Africa’s biggest game – the famous Soweto Derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates – was being sold out to a bumper crowd of about 90 000.
In Zimbabwe, pointing a finger is everybody’s pastime in our football when things aren’t the way they should. But in most cases, it is the only thing to do because the people that jostle for leadership positions do not get to deliver on their pledges, leaving us all bystanders with wide and varied criticism.
“Lack of sound leadership” has been widely blamed for the poor attendances at Premier Soccer League (PSL) matches across the nation.
But, to me, the apparent death of Zimbabwean domestic football yearns for a deeper examination of the situation, not a theory that simply zero in on “leadership crisis” and inferior entertainment value from the field of play.
Others argue that low turnout for the Dynamos-Highlanders meeting at the National Sports Stadium in Harare has to do with both giant clubs having had an indifferent season in 2022, with the league title surrendered to FC Platinum for yet another term.
But there is the undeniable fact that had the match been played in Bulawayo and not Harare, we would have witnessed a much bigger crowd, definitely a more electrifying atmosphere, under the very same conditions that the game was played in the capital.
And this is in the same league, the same competition with the same inept leadership that is failing to sell tickets and failing to get fans to throng stadiums as they used to do.
Academics have dared to delve into it, endeavoring to explain this scenario in scholarly research, but it has always been there for all to see why: it is in the cultures of both cities and both regions, what football really means in the social fabric of both cities.
Never can there be lack of motivation and passion for the Highlanders fan when their biggest rivals, Dynamos, are in town. On the day the passionate Bosso faithful disappear from the Barbourfields stands from the first whistle, on that day the great derby will be pronounced dead.
But I’m not going to walk away from the management argument. Didn’t we see how Zimbabwe’s well-branded second-tier league staged a memorable cup final last week, thousands in attendance, creating quite an atmosphere at Rufaro?
Kudos to everyone in that league for showing big brother PSL how it’s done!
That fans are still watching Division One football, perhaps in even greater numbers, is at least some comforting news.
It doesn’t however take away the wider problem of fans generally losing interest in football in this country.
The decline didn’t start overnight, it has been gradual, and the reason, ask me, is poor remuneration for players in the top-flight league. Because of moneyed corporate partners clubs like Dynamos, Highlanders and the two Platinums are able to cushion their players from hardships.
But you have a situation whereby CAPS United, one of the country’s traditional big clubs, going for several months without paying players. In times like this, just spare a thought for the smaller clubs. The result is a poor product displayed on the field, and bit-by-bit, empty seats in the terraces.
There are frequent concerns that these clubs will go out of business, and we’ve witnessed this for a number of years with the smaller teams in Zimbabwe.
It is not surprising therefore that the two teams that squared off in the Division one cup final I mentioned, Simba Bhora and Golden Eagles, are the two best run clubs in that league. No wonder, again, they were fervently supported throughout the season. They gave fans much to cheer about, through the football culture and atmosphere that the spectators love and missed, the purpose of the game in the end.
In the meantime, I’d like to see the PSL taking some notes, and then root-and-branch changes made to curb a total collapse.