- Bullets, Wanderers stadium plans remain pipedream for decades
Blantyre-based TNM Super League giants Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers have been in existence for over 50 years but their plans to own land for stadium construction remain a pipedream.
For decades, almost every leadership at the two clubs comes with promises to own land for the project and fundraising activities towards the initiative are launched but, sadly, nothing concrete happens on the ground.
Yet they bask in the glory of being the most popular and successful clubs in the country with huge fan bases and their matches gross millions of kwacha. Since government-owned Kamuzu Stadium was closed last season, they have been playing most of their home games away from their base.
Weekend Nation investigation shows that former president Bakili Muluzi, in 2003, offered to buy MDC Stadium for Bullets, but an influential official close to both Muluzi and the club suggested acquisition of land for the project, arguing the stadium was “too small for the club.”
Later, Football Association of Malawi (FAM) acquired the facility.
Bullets were allocated land in Soche by the Department of Lands, but failed to develop it.
“Indeed, Bullets had a land in Soche but authorities reallocated it to other people because, for years, the club failed to develop the place,” said Bullets chief executive officer Fleetwood Haiya.
According to former Wanderers executive committee chairperson Timothy Chirwa, Nomads’ sponsors, Limbe Leaf Tobacco Limited, through former managing director JP Stevens offered them land in Bangwe Township in 1983, but one influential Nomads trustee then, obstructed the idea, saying it was not ‘ideal’ for a stadium.
“After that, there was no direction on the way forward. I do not know if the subsequent committees followed up the issue,” he said.
The Super League champions were allocated another piece of land in Bangwe, but the current executive committee chairperson Gift Mkandawire on Wednesday said they lost the opportunity after failing to finalise acquisition of the land with the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.
But why have the two outfits all these years been offering lip-service on investing in their own facilities?
“The problem is that the money we generate through gate collection is not even enough for our operations,” Mkandawire said.
He added: “We need some serious marketing drives and external forces such as corporate partners to fulfil our dreams.”
Haiya explained that clubs do not make enough money at the gates to necessitate their saving culture as most of it goes to stakeholders such as ground owners, who get 25 percent from the gross revenue.
“For example, if our game grosses K50 million, we only get just about K10 million. We are really losing out and we need to think deeply about our future,” he said.
But considering that stadium construction is a big project that might take five years or more to complete, the two clubs believe it is important for them to lease Kamuzu Stadium from government for five years as they await their projects to take shape.
Former Bullets chairperson Kondi Msungama said, previously, the club could not fulfil promises of carrying out meaningful projects because they did not have proper structures.
“Despite having an executive committee in place, the club was mostly ruled by the supporters and it was hardly possible to move towards the right direction. But with the current setup, whereby the side is now a limited company, things would go the right way. However, it would be much easier once there is clarity on the memorandum of understanding between Bullets and Nyasa Manufacturing Company,” he said.
Msungama added that, local clubs generally struggle to fulfil their big project plans because their income from competitions is far too little compared to what they invest.
“For a big club such as Bullets to operate smoothly in a season, it requires about K200 million yet top-flight league champions get as little as K15 million. We need meaningful sponsorship of our competitions for clubs to live their dreams,” he said.
Soccer analyst George Kaudza-Masina believes being run by an executive committee has been a disadvantage for the prosperity of the two clubs as each time a new committee is ushered into office, it comes up with a different agenda, thus lacking continuity.
“It is also this kind of set up that has let their large following fail to appreciate financial support to the outfits through various fundraising initiatives,” he explained.
In March 2016, Wanderers organised a fundraising dinner dance to kick-start the stadium project but the initiative was a big flop as most of the companies and individuals failed to honour their pledges. The pledges totalled about K9 million.
However, the two clubs have since vowed to do anything possible to acquire land at the end of the years and never turn back on their mission to own stadiums.
Haiya said: “As Bullets, we have intensified our search for a new land of at least 20 hectares. We are talking with land authorities to allocate us a new site and it will not take time before we lay a foundation stone for the project. We are hoping to start the project at the end of the year.”
Let us hope this is not another big promise that will not fizzle out as time goes by.