This is because soccer can at best regarded as an emerging sport in the Shaky Islands. But if you were to consider that the New Zealand national team, almost entirely made up of locally-based players, featured in this year’s Fifa Confederations Cup in South Africa as champions of the Pacific region, you come to appreciate that being one of the deadliest strikers in the New Zealand premiership for the better part of eight years is no mean achievement for a former Schools rugby player from Harare.
This is the story of Lance Eeson, a “Zimbabwean ball artist”, as the New Zealand soccer media likes calling the 27-year-old.
It’s really amazing how a sportsman, a footballer for that matter, can be so idolised abroad when he is hardly known in his homeland, which seems to be the main reason why Eeson is returning home next season to join a local club in a bid to fulfil his long-time ambition- playing for his country.
“I am hoping to be home early next year,” Eeson told IndependentSport from New Zealand this week. “Playing for the national team would be nothing but a dream and if all went well at club level, then I’m sure playing for the national team would be an honour.”
Eeson was born in Harare in 1981 and was educated at Eaglesvale Primary School and Prince Edward High.
At PE, rugby was Lance’s first love, and indeed he would go on the represent the school’s famous first XV, the Tigers, teaming up with none other than the famed Springbok winger Tonderai Chavhanga, alongside other schoolboy aces like Piet Benade, Alfred Sairai, Farai Shava among others.
“It was one of the greatest PE teams,” he says. “It will definitely go into the history books.”
As a fullback Eeson combined sudden turn of pace, excellent attacking skills and a nose for gap, which has helped him in his football career.
“It does in a way bring awareness, and going from rugby to soccer removers the fear of my opponent as now I am not dealing with a 6-foot giant, being a smaller guy myself,” he quips.
Back home, Eeson only played football socially for Hellas club because at school it clashed with the rugby season in the second term.
He moved to New Zealand with his family in 2001, starting off at a school team, Mt Albert Grammar, banging 35 goals in a single season.
His first major breakthrough came a year later when he was signed by New Zealand’s only professional club then, Football Kingz. He only made six starts in as many months before crossing the Tasmania barrier in 2002 to play for Australian premier league outfit Western Surburbs. He scored eight goals. The following year he moved to Melbourne to join Northcote City in the same league, netting 12 goals.
He would return to New Zealand in 2004 to join Waitakare City for the 2004-5 season and then Gisborne City in 2006.
He then settled at Central United and finally Hamilton Wanderers. He was prolific as ever for these four clubs, ending in double figures each season.
He said of the standards in New Zealand compared to Zimbabwe: “The standard here is of decent level. There is a wide range of good players that should be playing higher up but just don’t get a look in.
“Zimbabwean and African football in general is gracious and played with passion, that is what I love and miss.”
He names the old Zimbabwe national side, the Dream Team, as his local role models.
“Having been away for so long, I grew up idolising Agent “Ajira” Sawu, the Ndlovu brothers, Bully Mckop, Carlos Max, Karim Abdul, basically the Dream Team of old.”