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Bringing back the fans

THE 2019 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League programme roars into life on March 30, facing a number of challenges, chief among them being the need to bring the football fans back to the stadiums.

The fans are getting fewer and fewer at domestic top-flight matches with each passing week to the extent that even the most popular teams Dynamos and Highlanders — who in the past attracted crowds of around 20 000 or more fans when playing at home — no longer attract even half of that figure.

It was saddening, in some cases, to see crowds of around 200 or less gather to watch teams in the Premiership play, painting a bad picture of Zimbabwean football to a visitor to the country.

There was a time in 2016 and 2017 when it was thought that the live television broadcast of PSL matches was affecting fans attendance, but still, there was no change on the stands in 2018 when the screening of those matches stopped.

The football family cannot point to the $3 gate charge as a contributing factor because this money is not much as in 2018 it could only buy a pint of Castle Lager in cheap places, but was not enough in some where the same quantity was going for $3.50 or more.

Even today, that $3 gate charge cannot even buy a quart of that popular Castle Lager in the cheapest of places in Zimbabwe, and so, cannot be used as a factor to dwindling attendance match figures.

What is ironic is that musical shows at a gate charge of $5 continue to attract sizeable crowds while at the same time football continues to lose its public appeal by each day, but only in Zimbabwe.

The fan is the most important part of the game, because in domestic football he is the one who pays part of the players’ salaries, and bonuses. It is the football fan who pays for the stadium in which the game is played, and it is the same fan who makes the game more exciting with his cheering from the stands.

These are the same people who bring a sense of pride to the game when they gather at newsstands to discuss the events of the previous day’s matches.

In other countries, crowds at football matches are getting bigger and bigger and after watching the huge and enthusiastic crowd that watched Mamelodi Sundowns overcome Cape Town City 3-2, and the goalless draw between Zesco and Zanaco in Zambia, the feeling was that there was something that Zimbabwean football was not doing well enough.

It is a fact that football standards have gone down, but that cannot be the only reason why fans are staying away. The fact remains that, apart from the main PSL game on offer, fans need extra entertainment on that particular occasion, as that is the reason why they come to matches in pairs or groups.

That extra entertainment is what is lacking in Zimbabwean football, and the Premier Soccer League and the Zimbabwe Football Association should do something to address this problem, even it means allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages in plastic containers at these games.

This might sound absurd, but the PSL and Zifa cannot run away from the fact that football fans love their beer, and drinks at matches as happens all over the world in football as well as in Zimbabwe in cricket, and rugby.

Take, for example, the Zimbabwe national cricket team, Chevrons. They are being hit left, right and centre, but have not lost their following due to the atmosphere of friendship and fun at Harare and Queens sports clubs.

After all, the Premier Soccer League is sponsored by Castle Lager and there is nothing wrong in making the sponsor’s name even more visible at football matches by selling their products.

This might not be the solution to the crisis, but it might be an added attraction. Knowing the behaviour of some of the football followers, alcoholic beverages at a reasonable price might help to bring some of them back to the stadiums.

However, it is now up to Zifa and the PSL to find ways of bringing the crowds back or else the games would soon be played in empty stadiums.

That additional entertainment on top of the main PSL game is needed.

For your comments, views and suggestions, email mkariati@gmail.com or WhatsApp on 077 3 266 779.

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