Some two weekends ago, Be Forward Wanderers pitifully lost to minnows Mzuzu University (Mzuni) 4-2 in a Super League game at the Nomads own home turf, Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre.
What dominated the sports discourse in the aftermath was a ridicule of the defensive frailties of the quite expensively assembled Wanderers side. Ostensibly missing from the analysis was the fact that the game against Mzuni was Wanderers’ third in five days. About 24 hours earlier, the team had played against Prison United in a Carlsberg Cup quarter final and two days previously they had hosted Kamuzu Barracks in the Round of 16 encounter of the same cup. Wanderers kept a clean sheet (did not concede a goal) in these two games.
This, in a way, illustrates how crammed fixtures can be a detriment to the performance of a team and the health and career of our sports stars. About a decade ago former coach of the Flames, the late Burkhard Ziese, attracted the wrath of the country’s football politburo when he said Malawi’s football would head nowhere if teams continued to play more than one game in a weekend. That anathema is quite conspicuous today as sports administrators treat Ziese’s astute observation with great impunity and maintain their lackadaisical approach to football fixtures.
Today, we still have teams that travel more than 600 kilometres to the northern region city of Mzuzu to play two games over two consecutive days. Fatigue and injury are a common occurrence in these fixtures, especially for the travelling teams. The same rings true for the reverse fixtures in Blantyre. To put it into perspective, no team during the present football season has travelled that long distance (from Mzuzu to Blantyre or Blantyre to Mzuzu) and managed to collect full points from such two fixtures played over two successive days.
The situation is even made worse when a team contributes more than three players to the Malawi national squad. This entails that a team’s cup and league engagements are put on hold until its players return from national duty. What happens next is more of a chastisement for the team as it has to fulfill its outstanding fixtures in a short period, some running back to back over three to four days.
Of course there are arguments that such fixtures are made to help teams cut on their cost of transportation and accommodation. However, this is a hyperbole. Developing our game and the welfare of our footballers should always take precedence over cost and any other spendthrift policies. Teams willing to participate in the Super League should at least have the financial muscle to play 14 games spread over 14 weeks. Even if it means reducing the number of teams; you just can’t compromise quality in football administration over numbers. Definitely sponsors and investors would be willing to put their money in a league that is competitive and run professionally.
We have already witnessed firsthand how short-lived the careers of our footballers are because of, among other factors, cramming their football seasons with fixtures that pay a blind eye to their health and career longevity. It is quite pathetic that the average top flight playing career for Malawian footballers is less than four seasons, half of the average in English football.
At a time when our soccer governing body is waxing lyrical about turning our football clubs into professional entities, it is sad that our game is not being aligned to match professional standards. No professional league in the world has its clubs playing three games in a space of five days! Fixtures for the whole season also ought to be released before the start of the season, not the current haphazard piecemeal situation that makes it difficult for teams to come up with detailed game plans.
It is time our football authorities synchronized the calendar for cup, league and national side fixtures. That’s what professional leagues do. Failure to address this will continue to exert serious ramifications on the growth of our football.