Even when you just come from Mars, it should be easy telling when times are hard at Big Bullets. Just read from the psychology of their seating plan in the terraces.
When the Bullets fans (Palestines) occupy the lowest rung of the Kamuzu Stadium eastern terraces, as was common until recently, you know times are hard.
Now the seating plan has taken new shape. Last Sunday, the fans, roughly 15 000 of them, filled their â€˜Ndirandeâ€™ stand up to the top.
That was not all. Two of the fans went to the extremeâ€”climbed 30 metres to sit and hoist a Bullets flag on the edge of the main entrance.
Not wishing to be outdone, another fan, dressed only in khaki shorts, climbed to the highest point at the stadiumâ€”the apex of a floodlight box.
Never mind that a slip-up could have turned his Bullets voyage of discovery into tragedy.
This was a latest Bullets pre-season football soap opera to which the full red house was glued during the 2-1 controversial Fama Top Eight semi-final win against Red Lions.
It seems the seating plan tells a bigger story.
The lowest terraces, which the two Bullets extremists came from; and the highest point they ascended, might have symbolised the teamâ€™s return to heights of glory.
â€œBullets are almost back,â€ declared top fan Frank â€˜Nyauâ€™ Msiska after the win against Lions booked Bullets a final berth against Blue Eagles this Saturday.
Two pre-season draws and three wins, including the 2-0 over rivals Mighty Wanderers, has injected a new sense of passion among the people in red. Fans can see hope where there was gloom.
From gates to terraces
Interestingly, as the Bulletsâ€™ revival continues, their fans are retreating from operating gates and harassing VIP guests to the open terraces.
The growing realisation that the fansâ€™ role starts and ends in the terraces is not just some accident according to Msiska who claims they had to do a lot of civic education.
It might be too early to say Bullets are back in town. This is just a huge promise punched in red font. It is possible this promise could again turn into a false one.
It could turn into a latest circus on which Bullets fortune-seekers have over the years thrived. It could turn into a fresh pain in the flesh of genuine Bullets fans.
Between 2005 and 2011, several managements have in vain tried to steer the Bullets ship to safety.
The Sunduzwayo Madise administration, the Cifu Group of Companies and Bullets Holdings Limitedâ€™s reigns all tried.
But fearing that their gold mine was being taken away, some Bullets fans simply throw a spanner in the works.
Msiska believes the current Malinda Chinyama administration might, after all, be the medicine the football doctor prescribed.
â€œThe previous regimes were bent on keeping supporters at armsâ€™ length, instead of co-existing with us. We put our case to the current administration, they listened; hence, the progress,â€ Msiska claimed.
â€˜We are almost thereâ€™
The fansâ€™ hope is as a result of what they see on the pitch. Yet what coach Eddington Ngâ€™onamo saw on his first day in training were a collection of individuals and not anything worth calling a team.
â€œThere was simply no discipline and instilling it was my first task. We have come a long way and we are almost there,â€ Ngâ€™onamo explained the revival story.
Being the third coach called to save a sinking Bullets ship last season, Ngâ€™onamo had promised five straight wins. This proved a tall order as the team barely escaped relegation.
A team with talented players such as Yamikani Fodya, Douglas Chirambo, Jeresi Lufeyo, Henry Kabichi, Wyle Tembeta, Gabadini Mhango and Godfrey Masonda should do better.
Contrary to assertions that Bullets were badly stripped of quality players, the problem was somewhere. Leadership was lacking. Fundi Akidu and Chiku Kanyenda had done their part as captains.
Perhaps, the deposed skippers were tired assuring their colleagues that salvation was around the corner when six years had brought none.
The sight of Bullets training ground did not simply inspire confidence that even returning Fischer Kondowe tinkered, sometimes opting to train with Escom United.
When Kondowe finally made a commitment following cautions from management, Ngâ€™onamo did not hesitate to hand the veteran winger the arm-band.
â€œI told management not to tamper with the squad. I was convinced the problem was not with the quality of players, but there was no team spirit. I told the players my coming could not save Bullets if there was no teamwork,â€ said Kondowe.
â€œThe first challenge was to convince myself that I could lead, thankfully playing with natural leader, Peter Mponda had rubbed off me. I told the players never to be afraid to talk to each other. Now it is the very same players showing promise.â€
â€˜We are strong nowâ€™
Kondowe believes he and other seniors such as Grant Lungu have brought a galvanising effectâ€”the Bullets nâ€™kumadzulo defiance.
â€œIt would be difficult for any team to break our rediscovered spirit. We can lose, but mentally we are strong,â€ the veteran winger declared.
The captainâ€™s assertions will get a stern test when Bullets take their revival to Lilongwe next week for a Fama Cup final against Blue Eagles.
A Fama Cup win should ordinarily be no big deal, but for a Bullets team that merely cheated Super League relegation last season, it could enhance the belief that the good days are coming again.