It’s 6pm on a sultry Tuesday evening in November. At the Italian Club in Monavale, floodlights bathe three purpose-built 5-a-side football pitches in a white glow, while the sun sets behind a cloud, turning the sky gold and indigo. A few dozen guys are milling around the pitches, having a drink from the clubhouse or getting uniforms on and warming up for the 6.15 games. As family, friends and players arrive and fill in the stands around the pitches, there’s a relaxed, convivial atmosphere on this first night of the league playoffs.
The league, called Forza Bhora, is the brainchild of Anthony Savo, a committee member of the Italian Club, who a few years ago was looking at the empty land at the Club and how they could make use of it. The Italian Club has a long history of being involved in football in Zimbabwe, fielding strong teams in the 11-a-side format for years. Unfortunately over time, there were fewer players to continue with the 11-a-side but the bond between club and football was still there. With the rest of the club committee, and the help of some outside friends, Savo set up the first 5-a-side football pitch in 2011. As Richard Mann, one of the organisers says, “the vision at the time was just to get a few immediate friends involved in starting a small social league. We had no idea where it could lead.”
The first season began in 2011 with eight teams, but the interest was immediately huge, so the Italian Club invested in another pitch. There are now the three pitches and 24 registered teams and still players are demanding more playing time. Each game is 40 minutes long and the rules are adapted from 11-a-side rules to keep players safe in the enclosed space and breakneck speed at which the games are played.
One of the striking aspects of the league is its diversity, something which the organisers are actively encouraging. According to Mann, there are Zimbabweans from nearly every walk of life participating, including a few women, and every continent is also represented. “It’s just great to see people who would not ordinarily cross paths in business or socially being brought together under one banner,” he says.
The league feels like it is on the cusp of more change. In order to accommodate demand, the priority now is to improve the facilities, as the grass pitches are not able to handle more traffic than one night a week. There are plans to invest in artificial turf, which will further improve the quality of the venue and allow more opportunities for younger teams and women to participate. The vision, however, remains the same: to provide an opportunity for people to get to know each other while playing football. They try to keep it simple social, well organised and, above all, anybody and everybody is welcome.
It already takes a lot of time and energy to keep the league running smoothly: there are the three managers and various support committees that are made up of players in addition to support from the Italian Club. All the work is done for free, allowing the club to benefit – revenue it desperately needs to keep paying its staff and its bills, which provides the excellent venue for the all the games.
Games, as anywhere, can be highly competitive, and the occasional yellow card doesn’t come as a complete surprise. But the overall sense of fun, sportsmanship and fair play is strong.
Mann sums up the spirit of the league by gleefully saying, “what motivates us is the enjoyment, and for all of us to just go out there, have fun and kick each other shins in before having a beer.”
Find out more or register a team on the Forza Bhora website.
Photo: One of the teams that play: the Alpine Bull Dozers