Rhodesia’s major spectator sport
by Glen Byrom Sports Editor, The Rhodesia Herald
(Nb. Values are quoted in money of the day; ie 1973)
More than a million spectators clicked through the turnstiles of Rhodesia’s football stadiums last season, and indications are that the figure will grow this year, making football by far the country’s major spectator sport. Spectators, including visitors to Rhodesia, come from every racial group, having one thing in common; the love of a fast, exciting, well-organised sport.
The success of the game is surprising in view of the set-back dealt by the International Football Federation (FIFA) in 1971, when Rhodesia was suspended. Unlike South Africa, whose current suspension is because of their apartheid policy, Rhodesian soccer is fully multi-racial. Blacks and whites play alongside each other in the same clubs, attend the same functions and get the same rewards for their efforts on the field.
The phenomenal growth of multi-racial soccer in Rhodesia is easily traced. From being a weekend recreation around 1960, it has developed to a stage where major business houses are prepared to spend an ever-increasing amount of money on the game’s promotion.
Take the Castle Cup tournament. Started by Rhodesian Breweries in 1962 with total prize money of $2 000, it was boosted to $4 000 in 1967. Today it is worth $6 200, and recently the Breweries announced more spectacular sponsorship. They will give $45 000 to the premier league competition over the next three years. The Rhodesia National Football League’s Division 1 competition has thus soared from $4 000 last season to $15 000 this year – almost four times bigger.
Explaining the leap, the manager of the Breweries beer division, Mr. Paul Johnstone, said: “Soccer is by far Rhodesia’s most popular sport. While standards are improving steadily, we believe a major incentive is now required to enable senior clubs all over the country to have something tangible to work for.
“The $15 000 is tangible and the added responsibility involved in earning and handling this sort of money must lead to improved standards of administration among the clubs as well as giving them the opportunity of providing better player, coaching and spectator facilities.” This means the Breweries alone are now contributing $21 000 a year to Rhodesian soccer and the game now boasts a total annual sponsorship of $26 000.
Other major sponsorship comes from B.A.T., the huge cigarette and cigar company, who provide the $2 000 B.A.T. Trophy, one of the three principal cup competitions. They sponsor minor leagues, inter-township leagues, and provide the Osborne Cup, a competition for amateur clubs. Team sponsorship is also undertaken.
Heinrich’s Breweries sponsor the Chibuku Trophy and maintain the Chibuku team, in addition to contributing towards the Football Association of Rhodesia.
After a few more years of winning this sort of money some top clubs will be able to turn fully professional and perhaps they will import their own top coaches.
Clearly football, or soccer as it is popularly called, is now a major business in Rhodesia. What happens on the field matters, for goals mean bigger pay packets for the players, more profit for the club and greater popularity with the fans. It also gives the players a golden chance of a certain fame and a new way of life. Like Peter Nyama.
When Peter Nyama left Chirodzo School in Harari in 1964 he had an advantage over thousands of other young African job-seekers. He could play football. At 27 he has a good job as a cashier at a beer hall in Harari run by the sponsors of his team, Chibuku.
A goal grabber who has become known to his fans as “Thunderboots”, he is one of Rhodesian football’s most valuable pieces of property. He is acknowledged and greeted everywhere he goes and he always responds with a flashing smile. A natty dresser with a wardrobe of well-cut suits, he has grown into a confident personality and he talks enthusiastically about the things he likes most – football, music and films.
At his attractive home, where he stays with wife Doreen, he has good furniture and a stereo outfit with over 80 lp records. It’s a good life for Peter Nyama, thanks to football.
Sadly, there are thousands like him all over the country whose talents are hidden because of lack of coaching. This is still a major problem as the game moves into the professional era in this vast country.
There is only one national coach, Scotsman Danny McLennan, formerly of Glasgow Rangers, who is relishing the challenge of unearthing the natural African talent and polishing it up by the teaching skills. But his task is too vast and he is only scratching the surface. Give Rhodesian soccer another 10 years – when it is sure to be fully professional – and the country will be challenging the best on even terms.
The last time a representative Rhodesian team played an international was in 1970, against Australia in a qualifying section of the World Cup. It was this country’s first venture into this famous competition and they held the much travelled, highly experienced Aussies to two draws before going down by a goal in the second replay.
Attendances are also growing. Leading Division One sides in Salisbury attract average gates of about 5 000. A Dynamos-Chibuku clash at Gwanzura Stadium or at Rufaro Stadium will attract at least 10 000, while the Castle Cup final always sees the stadium gates locked by one o’clock in the afternoon and a crowd of 25 000 or so crammed inside.
And Rhodesia’s multi-racial crowds are remarkably well behaved. They have the same passion for the game as their overseas counterparts, and major matches present a colourful spectacle and generate a lot of good-humoured noise. Cases of hooliganism are so rare that none comes to mind, for happily spectators at least treat this as a game and not go berserk when their side is defeated.
In football stadiums all over the country, during a long season which runs from the last week of January to the last week of October, this energetic spectacle entertains not only a cross-section of the Rhodesian public, but also a great number of visitors.