Come rain or scorching heat, every Sunday is match day at the community soccer field at the civic centre shops in Marlborough.
Young men of varying ages can be seen on the field or warming up on the sidelines. It may not be a professional game to onlookers, but the players take it seriously, as evidenced by the grim faces of the losing team as they trickle off the field to make way for the next game.
The pitch hosts teams from Westlea, Dzivarasekwa and Good Hope among others. Teams comprise different ages from 19 to 27, most of them unemployed youths, who look forward to each training and matches, helping them to pass time and keep fit.
The league, dubbed ‘social soccer’ by some, is not part of any formal association and there are no trophies or prizes for players to walk away with. Instead, players make small bets on each game, with the winning side dividing the pool among themselves.
Moreover, in the truest sense of the word ‘supporter’, fans have come to the aid of the impoverished players by providing lifts and even team kits to help the players distinguish friend from foe during their lively encounters.
Dzikamai Meso, a resident from Westlea, said he uses his van to transport the local team from his area to play at the Marlborough community soccer field as they could not afford to commute on their own. “I do not gain anything from it except the satisfaction I get whenever they win a match,” said Meso.
One player attributed most of their winnings to the donations they get. “When we get sponsors who donate transport or soccer kits to us we feel pressured to give our all so as not to be embarrassed when we go back home without winning,” he said.
The ground they play on is forlorn – a dust bowl long neglected by council. Goalies often find themselves dodging traffic to retrieve balls that fly through the un-netted goal posts. “The local municipality is failing to maintain the dilapidated park, so we hardly expect them to take care of the pitch,” said area resident Simbarashe Chirimuta.
The pitch is also used on a regular basis for church meetings, for which a fee is collected, though there is no indication that any of this is ploughed back into the grounds. But, sadly, worse is to come for this sporting sanctuary, as the Marlborough developments (more here) under the contentious Plan 45 are set to trump the social soccer scene.
Councillor for the area, Charity Bango, revealed that the recreational facility is set to close, as council has approved the building of ten blocks of three bedroom flats to house 60 families. Bango, who says that like residents she supports the building of homes, expressed dismay that the final location of the housing was signed off behind closed doors.
“I have stood against this move by council. I notified the soccer players of this development, and we mobilised and signed a petition – but to little effect,” she said. “I am not happy, the youths are not happy, I hope to engage the public so they unite against the cause but there is very little hope,” said Bango.
Part of the objections being raised against the planned developments is that they impinge on the constitutional rights of residents to sporting and recreational facilities. However, unless something dramatic changes, the players and fans will have to find another pitch on which to spend their Sundays.