Smells Like Team Spirit

Blue Dragons and the PORET community tournament.

After English, football (or soccer for Americans) is the second universal language spoken by Zimbabweans. For example, when I’m introduced to a new person, my name is immediately related to Robin Van Persie (a dutch football player of Manchester United). Despite this recognition, locals still proceed to pronounce my name “Reuben”. On my first trip to Zimbabwe, after being pulled over by police and forced to pay a $5 fine (supposedly for not wearing a seat belt but actually for being perceived as rich), we had a conversation with the fascinated police officer about Wayne Rooney, also of Manchester United, who then proceeded to ask us if our parents knew we were here.


The day after the Champions League final I was invited by Amius to join him in playing for the local football team named Blue Dragons, managed by Gift (known as Giggs), for a game against the nearby Hot Springs team. When I say nearby, I mean a gruelling 2 hour walk in the afternoon sun sort of nearby. Our trek began at 1pm as we traversed the rocky trails of Chaseyama, dodging the occasional snake. As we hit the main road towards Hot Springs, we were joined one-by-one by our fellow team members and so began the frenzy and hubbub surrounding last night’s final. Shona (the local language) can often sound loud and angry in discussion (not dissimilar to Italian), but if you have your ears pricked and listen for the occasional English word to gauge meaning, you realise they are just very excitable people who enjoy a good debate.

The pitch at Hot Springs was unsurprisingly bare and hadn't seen any water in a long time. But if you ignored the cow manure and rocks and focused on the goal posts, it was perfectly suitable  for a game of “footy”. I glimpsed at our opponents practising and was confused by their very clean and sharp-looking football kits and boots, which Amius explained was due to their sponsor, the local diamond mine. As the team gathered and kick off was looming, Giggs announced to the team that he expected me to play all 90 minutes (a challenge my already sweaty and tired body accepted) and I was thrown a shirt and some shorts, a royal blue just like the Stocksbridge Park Steels kit, the team I used to play for. So I was ready to endure my first 90 minutes of football in years, in Zimbabwe, with a team in which I couldn't remember anyone’s name and I had no idea of tactics, if there were any. 

After 10 minutes of trying to keep up with the pace and understand how things were played, I was already about to keel over in exhaustion. Thankfully, my legs remembered what they were supposed to do and I managed to make it to half time, with Blue Dragons leading 1-0. A depressingly short half time passed, with the lack of usual managerial “hair dryer” treatment and the game was back underway. The half bottle of water I drank definitely reinvigorated my rusty self, and apparently so for Amius, who I shared it with, as he went on to score 4 goals. We ended the game winning 7-1, missing out on a clean sheet due to a dubious goal, admittedly from my side, that I, and the rest of the team saw as offside, but perhaps the referee was feeling a little sympathetic. 

As the final whistle blew, I noticed my bleeding knees and took in my surroundings. The sidelines were dotted with groups of spectators as well as children who had been laughing at me every time I kicked the ball (or fell over, which happened a lot). It was warming to see how our game had brought the community together, showing collective support and had created a sociable and friendly environment. As I walked around the shops afterwards on a unfruitful quest for oats (as you do…), the locals came to shake my hand and say “well played” a gesture that drove home, once again, the good-natured amiability of the local community.  Thankfully, at the end of the game Gift paid for us to jump on the back of a truck towards PORET, cutting our return journey by an hour, something my legs appreciated to no end. 

The PORET Community Tournament

 The PORET Community tournament committee, including PORET officials and team officials after a three hour meeting discussing rules and resolving conflicts

The PORET Community tournament committee, including PORET officials and team officials after a three hour meeting discussing rules and resolving conflicts

 

The passion and conviviality on display at the game inspired Amius, Gift and myself to formalise a tournament, under the name of PORET, as a means to create a social connection and unity between the local villages and to engage the youth in the community. We drafted an inclusive tournament, with eight local teams (including 4 from Chaseyama, 2 from Hot Springs and 2 from Chakohwa) which could include players of any age or gender. A $10 affiliation fee was paid by each team which would contribute towards prizes for the winners and other categories such as top goal scorer.  

 Two of four local Chaseyama teams play in this hotly contested PORET Tournament game

Two of four local Chaseyama teams play in this hotly contested PORET Tournament game

 

There have been games played between the communities for a long time, but no co-ordinated effort towards a proper competition, which was where PORET came in. The idea is that a PORET “officials” would attend each game with other team officials to ensure fair play and show support, and at the final, Julious will speak on behalf of PORET and present the prizes. For PORET, the hope is that by spreading the word of what is happening at the site, it will increase community involvement and participation in its movement towards sustainable community development in the lowveld. It is hoped that the games will create networks and connection between the communities and in the future could create an environment for trade as well as skills and ideas sharing. 

 

The affiliation fees were paid and I attended the first game with Shepherd (the secretary and member of our permaculture study group) and Gift on Saturday 27th July between 11 Bullets of Chakohwa and Hot Springs. The game began almost on time, what is known here as “African time” (i.e about half an hour to an hour later than planned) with a referee and two officials and ended  2-0 to 11 Bullets. By the end of the game, the side lines were full of people, males and females of all ages and even a few goats decided to wander across the pitch and join in the fun. 

 First round community football game at Chaseyama in the evening sun   

First round community football game at Chaseyama in the evening sun

 

 

There will be two games each weekend, with home and away legs, and three rounds up to the final, which if things go to plan will occur just before Sarah and I leave. So far we are three weeks into the tournament and 11 Bullets and Chakowha Stars have proceeded to the next round. We have been estimating the attendance at each game, which peaked last Sunday as Sheperd and I counted 500 people attending the game.  After the tournament it is hoped that a full league can be set up with even more teams and maybe a little sponsorship (we have already been approached by one sponsor) to help supply nets and transport cost for far way games in the high veld. 

 Amius Nyama scores a late winning goal as Blue Dragons beat Hapare 1-0 in the first leg of the PORET tournament

Amius Nyama scores a late winning goal as Blue Dragons beat Hapare 1-0 in the first leg of the PORET tournament