In the 70s and 80s, Malawi soccer was one of the most feared forces in our region. During these two decades, Malawi won the East and Central Africa Senior Soccer Cup multiple times; we also had stellar performance in Africa Cup of Nations and other competitions. Up to date, citizens from other countries in the region still reminisce about how their teams were tormented by names like Kinnah Phiri, Barnett Gondwe, Clifton Msiya, Dennis Saidi, Lawrence Waya, Frank Sinalo, and many others.
How did Malawi become such a soccer powerhouse for such a long period? Well, we can point to several factors but one factor that is paramount is the grassroots development of the game. This helped with exposure and discovery of talent through competitions from rural areas up to national level. Most of the stars of past times would have fizzled away into oblivion without being noticed by big teams had it not been for competitions like the MBS National Secondary Schools Competition and the Mayors’ Trophies which were competed among urban primary schools. These helped scouts to find talent that was hidden somewhere in remote corners of the country.
It can be argued that Malawi national soccer team’s performance has dwindled in the recent decades because of lack of funding for the team and for clubs. However, having well funded clubs without a robust catchment source to scout talent from, is like building a structure without a strong foundation. There are many aspects of a player performance that cannot be easily taught and/or developed at fairly older ages. So grassroots development is key.
Fast forward to the late 90s and modern days. Malawi is a powerhouse again. This time it is on the world stage, ranked number five in the world and number one in Africa except for a few lapses when we would briefly relinquish the position to our arch-rivals, the better funded and South Africans. We are talking netball here, people. We are talking about The Mighty Malawi Netball Queens. Despite mediocre resources and support for the game and indeed the national team itself, Malawi netball Queens have tormented all the teams in Africa and have given the top four teams in the world a run for their rankings.
I had never witnessed how great The Queens were until I watched them live when they demolished other teams from the region at the 2012 Diamond Challenge in Pretoria, South Africa. I was thoroughly impressed and they made me and those who came to cheer them on extremely proud to be behind them and indeed to be Malawian.
Following my witnessing of Malawi Queens performance, I volunteered to be a Co-patron of Malawi Netball Queens. As a Co-patron, albeit self-declared, I pledge to get involved and support the Queens in whatever way I can. The Queens can only maintain their stranglehold on African Netball if they get all the support from as many people as they can get as Co-patrons. One of the things we can do as Co-patrons is support grassroots development of the game. In my village, Makupete village in Thondwe Zomba, we have a netball team which competes with teams from surrounding areas. Team sports like netball help keep our girls fit, away from mischief and build teamwork. Who knows? Future Queens stars might come from Makupete village. That can happen if our netball team gets support so the girls can concentrate on improving their skills and team chemistry. Nothing motivates a team better than having proper resources like a good uniform and netballs to practice or play with. So I was not shocked when I saw the excitement on the faces on the girls from our Makupete Village Netball Team when, on my visit to my home community in June 2013 as part of initiatives for our Thondwe Youth Skills Development Organization (THOYODO) , I delivered a netball kit and balls that I had acquired for them. You can do it as well.
Let us cheer on the Queens, but I encourage others who have been touched by the Queens performance to go beyond cheering and join me as Co-patron to develop the sport from ground up so we can feed the juggernaut that is Malawi Netball Queens.
It doesn’t take much to do little things but together they won’t be little things anymore.
Let’s go beyond cheering. Go Queens! Go Co-patrons!
Let’s Do This!