World Sports

Francistown Football in Doldrums

A recent forum of four Francistown First Division North football teams to diagnose their problems and appeal for help from the northern city authorities laid bare the evidence why the four teams have all relegated from the premier league.

During the meeting, convened by the northern city’s Mayor, Sylvia Muzila, instead of owning up to their own weaknesses, club managers from Tafic, Tasc, Ecco City Greens and Great North Tigers blamed the city council and companies for the lack of sponsorship.

One factor which is not in dispute with football in the city is that talent has not dried up and continues to sprout in every corner of the city.

However, the talent has remained elusive as it shuns disorganised local teams in favour of the more organised and privatized teams down south in the capital city where management also appears to be better.

One thing that was identified as a cause for concern was the perennial infighting within clubs and the regional football committees which has resulted in elected officials spending more time protecting their positions than serving football.

That Francistown football should now be in a moment of reflection to find solutions is not in question considering how football administrators here are also infamous for being runaway leaders when it comes to sustained off the field issues; the battle for the control of Tafic is the most famous example.

The elections and suspension of football officials within clubs, the Francistown Regional Football Association (FRAFA), the first division north committee and in the recent past the last minute postponement of games, protests that hold the leagues at ransom every season, refusal by referees to officiate because of not being paid on time, has turned Ghetto football administration into a laughing stock.

For those that have relegated from the premier league, the lack of accountability on the use of club finances including gate takings and the grant from the premier league has added to the woes of the clubs.

This has seen revolts amongst players who often went for months without pay, with some ditching clubs for greener pastures down south or opting for the more lucrative constituency tournament.

Some of them, especially foreign players have been left in the lurch stranded with clubs failing to honour contracts.

All these factors have played a role in the decline of football fortunes here; money and Francistown football’s lack of it is often cited as being at the heart of all the clubs’ problems.

FRAFA chairperson, Jonas Ikgopoleng summed it all up when he said recently during their interaction with some companies in a bid to source sponsorship it became clear that some clubs in Francistown didn’t actually have bank accounts and constitutions.

“Sometimes of these people want to see how serious we are by demanding constitutions. Who in their right senses can sponsor a team that does not have a bank account,” he grudgingly asked.

After a golden generation of football in the 1980s and 1990s where both Tafic and Tasc football clubs were feared by their opponents south of Dibete, the new millennium signaled the beginning of an era of near football obscurity for former premier league campaigners.

This precipitated a tumultuous period which saw the teams moving back and forth between the first division and the premier league until they had all glided into the lower divisions. While Ecco City Greens hoisted the city flag high going on to win the league in the process, the sword finally fell on them in the recent past season when they were relegated after Botswana Meat Commission withdrew its financial support to the team.

The low attendance at the meeting on Wednesday even prompted the FRAFA chairperson to remark that it was an indication that football was going out of fashion in the second largest city.

Ikgopoleng said it was heartbraking not to have a team in the premier league in the city, adding that the fact also troubled the city authorities, especially the mayor.

“It is fitting for the mayor to have called us to get to the root of our problems,” he admitted.

The lack of support by local companies, including mines which prefer to engage in other corporate social responsibility activities such as building houses was a predominant theme through the meeting.

The use of the Francistown city council stadium which does not give priority to football teams was also identified as another issue which denies clubs the right to practice and get used to turf surfaces.

“Anyone can book the stadium and in that case football teams have to find some dusty grounds to honour their games,” said Ikgopoleng.

However, he said that they have been allocated a 20 hectare plot behind the new stadium on a 50 year lease which they want the authorities to assist them in its development.

Also, he pleaded with the mayor to assist the four clubs in their fundraising activities to bolster their chances of promotion to the elite league. The mayor highlighted that she had always wanted to meet the teams before the season as she was concerned about the state of football in the city.

“During Kgotla meetings, it became abundantly clear that we are all to blame for this state of affairs. All those who were supposed to assist the clubs did not do so until it was late,” she pointed out.

However, Muzila said that they wanted to see how they could work together as the city council to ensure that the city had at least a team in the premier league; she added that stakeholders should move with speed because the city could not boast about good infrastructure while sport development lagged behind.

“I have never seen or heard of a city which does not have a team that plays in the premier league. Even villages now have teams in the elite league,” she derided, adding that the council wanted to assist all the four teams equally so that they could gain promotion to the elite league.

Consequently, she said after consultations with the council they hope to improve the teams’ access to the council stadium or even help them develop their own plots, adding that the mayor’s charity fund could be used if there were donors contributing towards football development.

Specially elected councillor, Peter Ngoma challenged club managers to face reality and stop skirting around issues that have resulted in the relegation of all the four teams.

“You have tried and failed to run the clubs as societies. Privatise and give the teams to individuals who have the finances. If we can’t privatise all the four clubs forget about getting promoted,” he said.

GNT chairperson, Thebeetsile Motswaeng, explained that Francistown teams did well when institutions supported them; he pleaded with the city authorities to urge companies to change their mindset on sponsoring football.

Ecco City Greens manager, Robert Mukundi equally appealed to the city leadership to help them find sponsors aying: “I have knocked on the doors of almost every company in the city to no avail.”

Tasc chairman, Motshereganye Leshongwane said there was need to find out if the teams were treated equally by the regional football committees as he thought that also had a bearing on the current situation.

Some supporters observed that no sponsor would soil their company brands and reputation by associating with conflict-riddled football clubs; another factor was that supporters only went to games involving their clubs instead of giving other city rivals the same support.

First Division North secretary general, Rapula Gaotlhobogwe urged the Francistowners to go and benchmark in Serowe on how they managed to have two teams from the same village promoted to the elite league in the same year.

He pleaded with team leaders to learn to sacrifice for the sake of football development. In the end it was also observed that the relegation of all the four clubs has not only robbed fans, but also killed the small business sector which used to make a lot of money during premier league games thereby negatively affecting the Francistown economy.

Source : BOPA