When you are in the sort of form and state Escom United are in—in the midst of the worst start and finish to a TNM Super League season—it is easy to allow circumstances to get the better of you.
As Flames captain Peter Mponda said recently , reflecting on the situation at Black Leopards in South Africa when they were relegated in 2008, “The place became like a morgue, and the training ground like a desert.”
Mponda’s words have a familiar feel for Escom’s longest serving player Kondwani Gawani.
“The reality is that we are struggling and we have confidence problems. This is without doubt the most difficult time of my career here at Escom. There is a lot of pressure from supporters, management, from everybody really,” said Gawani.
From champions in 2010/2011 to runners-up in 2011/2012, missing the title by a point, Escom are in an unfamiliar territory—the drop zone.
They lie second from bottom with four games to wind up the season.
It is about life and death, and going by their recent performances, life in the Southern Region Football League (SRFL) beckons.
Statistics don’t look well either; 19 points from 23 games before yesterday’s encounter, only four wins, seven draws and 12 defeats.
Life is no longer the same at the Escom Ground, the home of the once electrifying Electricians.
“I used to wake up and look forward to training. But now I go to Escom Ground and sometimes not having the zeal to train.
“No one is smiling anymore and good people are leaving. There are a lot of questions about what would happen next and at one point we felt ready to fold up. I shake my head and think, ‘this can’t be happening to such a great club.’
“It is a big change from just a few years ago when we were two-time champions in 2007 and 2010 and then finishing second in 2008, 2009 and last season. Everyone was smiling and it was a happy place to be. Not anymore,” said a dejected Gawani.
People may have already condemned Escom to relegation, but the former under-17 and under-20 international has strong belief that the club will pull through.
If they win all their remaining games, beginning with today’s match against Silver Strikers in Lilongwe, they could pave the road to safety. But the team’s performance in the 24 games so far gives little reason for cheer.
Their average performance has been a win after two defeats, followed by a draw before drifting back into the losing mode.
“The challenge is for us to stay positive. Things have been going wrong and we were anxious to fix them. This has not been happening and we have been getting negative. That is not good.
“There is too much quality at the club for us to be struggling. It is up to me and other senior players to set the example and believe that we can do it and we will do it,” said Gawani.
Escom problems started right at the beginning of the season when the club transfer-listed all senior players as a cost-cutting measure in the absence of sponsorship.
They lost James Chilapondwa, Chimango Kayira and Heston Munthali to Bullets, Young Chimodzi Jnr, Charles Swini and Chipiliro Jose to Silver Strikers while captain Maupo Msowoya retired.
The then technical panel of Charles Manda, Aubrey Nankhuni and MacDonald Mtetemera assembled a squad of youngsters who could not cope with pressure in the top flight league. They finished the first round at the bottom of the table.
The return of striker Chiukepo Msowoya and midfielder Jacob Ngwira from South Africa could not improve the situation in the second round.
The coaches were fired and four players Ngwira, Msowoya, Gawani and Noel Mkandawire, took over in a caretaker role. But league results remained pathetic although they managed to reach the finals of the Carlsberg Cup.
Then three weeks ago, veteran Alex Masanjala was roped in to help save the titanic from sinking. He had a promising start with a 2-1 win over Kamuzu Barracks. But defeats to Epac (2-1) , Tigers (4-0) and Bullets (5-1) in subsequent games mean there is more to be done than just his presence to avoid relegation.
But for Gawani, even in the face of the troubles, he says he has managed to keep a sunny outlook on and off the pitch.
“It’s something I have to do. There’s no question about it. I can’t allow football issues to affect my home life, though it is source of income. It’s not fair on my two kids if I come home with a long face. I will never allow that happen.”