IndependentSportview By Darlington Majopnga
THE passion that greeted the unveiling of the CBZ Cup, Zimbabwe’s richest knockout football tournament with a $200 million purse, has inevitably died along with the crumbling of the country̵
7;s top teams.
With Dynamos joining fellow giants Highlanders, Caps United and Masvingo United on the sidelines, this unexpected turn of events is certainly not what the sponsors had bargained for.
For now, CBZ Holdings can publicly smile and say the power of their purse has boosted competitiveness in football as the progression of the smaller, unfancied teams at the expense of the big guns may prove.
Of course it’s a great revolution in football, if the development is not a fluke.
Yet deeply, the financial institution will feel robbed.
It’s a stubborn fact that sponsors don’t just get into football to “give back to the community” but to gain mileage. It’s a win-win scenario between the sponsor and the sponsored.
With all due respect to the teams that have done so well to be in the quarterfinals, none of them has the charisma that would make the CBZ Cup a high-profile tournament that it should be.
You can imagine a major cup final featuring either Buymore, Motor Action, Monomotapa or Mwana Africa against Lancashire Steel, Chapungu, Hwange or Shabanie Mine.
Of course it’s preposterous to expect Highlanders, Dynamos Caps United and Masvingo United to have advanced in the CBZ Cup even when they were simply not good enough.
While the smaller clubs celebrate their progression, they must realise though they face a challenger tougher than winning the CBZ Cup. What these clubs need more than beating Dynamos or Highlanders is to spruce up their profiles and attract huge followings.
If Motor Action could attract at least 10 000 spectators and Buymore half of that, we can be rest assured the CBZ Cup would still be the talk of town.
But for now we know it would be stretching our imagination too far to toy around with such figures.
We know too well Motor Action have failed to attract more than 2 000 spectators even when entrance was free at their Callies home ground. Buymore too are not strangers to virtually empty stadia.
The quarterfinal between Monomotapa and Mwana Africa is likely to be worse, unless the fixture was played at the latter’s Trojan ground in Bindura where mineworkers would naturally rally behind their company team.
Hwange can also draw a better crowd from their community against Shabanie Mine as can fellow mine team Lancashire Steel against Chapungu in the other quarterfinal fixtures next week.
But none of the matches can be billed a potential thriller with the potential to create a hype that would give CBZ Holdings the mileage it deserves after pouring big money into football at a time economic hardships are wreaking havoc.
For now, the hype will barely transcend the media coverage that in part is inspired by a cheque dangled for the best journalists — or, to be fairly accurate, the ones who will report more on the tournament.
The scenario is quite different from that in England, where virtually all football teams — from amateur to professional — boast strong support bases.
The League Cup, roughly the equivalent of the new CBZ Cup, is in full swing in England with the third round having been played this week.
The shock of the round was premiership side West Ham United’s 2-1 defeat at third division Chesterfield on Tuesday, while Manchester United were stretched into extra time in their 2-1 win over third division Crewe Alexandra on Wednesday.
It’s interesting to note that should Manchester United as well as fellow giants Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool get eliminated in the early rounds of the cup, the tournament can still maintain its high-profile hype.
Newcastle, for example, can still expect a near-capacity turnout at St James Park where 52 316 can comfortably sit and enjoy the game.
Notts County can be assured of a full house at their 20 300-seater Meadow Lane home when they face fellow fourth division side Wycombe Wanderers when they meet in the League Cup third round.
All the teams in the English Premier League are capable of keeping the League Cup “alive” all the way to the final even when the giants are out. Talk of Tottenham, Everton, Aston Villa, Charlton and Middlesbrough.
The way English teams have managed to build support bases is admirable. That’s why most of the teams have their own stadia, including the likes of Conference North side Droylsden whose Butcher’s Arms ground sits 3 500 spectators.
Warriors skipper Benjani Mwaruwari’s Portsmouth have the smallest stadium in the premiership, with Fratton Park being a 20 288-seater.
In Zimbabwe the trend in match attendances has generally been pathetic. The obvious excuse one will get is that people are suffering and have priorities more important than football that they need to spend money on.
Fair and fine. But you would still wonder if the thousands that still follow Dynamos and Highlanders are not reeling under the same economic malaise.
It’s only last year that clubs were worried when Dynamos appeared to be heading for relegation, for they knew the demise of the premiership’s cash cow would hit them hard too. But then, you don’t play Dynamos every week.
There are quite a number of things that all the clubs ought to do in order to command big followings, but it’s not easy.
First, they have to be good and entertaining on the field — and consistently too for one-season wonders have always been perceived as just that. That’s not healthy for a club dreaming of commanding multitudes.
Second, winning the premiership, cups and being generally competitive is key to building fan bases. But the key word again is consistency.
Third, teams need to really identify with communities and vice versa, not simply to play your games in Mutare and think the people of that city will automatically follow you. You have to give them a reason to follow you.
Take for example Buymore. Over the years the club has been referred to as Chitungwiza-based, but there are no prizes for guessing why they have a miniscule portion of the sprawling town’s million people following them.
Former premiership sides Fire Batteries and Darryn T used to command good crowds at Chitungwiza’s Chibuku Stadium in the mid-1990s because they were true community sides.
Last but not least, clubs in this era simply have to be business-minded and adopt an aggressive approach in building their profiles.
Look at the way Manchester United and Real Madrid — big as they are already — battle to recruit more followers, especially in the populous Asia.
They understand the business of football and know full well the more fans they get, the more money comes their way — either in the form of ticket sales or replica shirt sales.
We all hope football clubs will go beyond the rhetoric of turning professional and make their teams brands to reckon with.
Meanwhile, we pray well-wishers will come to the aid of former Darryn T footballer Godwin Stone who urgently needs close to $200 000 for medical examination and more later.
Stone, popularly known as Banda, has his eye popping out of its socket due to an ailment yet to be diagnosed. He has been in excruciating pain for weeks and is fast wasting away while he fails to raise the cash that Parirenyatwa Hospital needs to examine him.
Banda was touted as the best of the youth — including Alois Bunjira and Stewart Murisa — who made waves at Darryn T in the early 1990s until a knee injury shattered his promising career.
Those who wish to help Banda, who has been eking out a living braaing meat in Zengeza, can e-mail me for further details.
Get well soon Bango.