Nkosilathi Sibanda/Fungai Muderere
FOOTBALL players in the thicket of Lupane seem to have made good use of the sandy terrain that typifies the area.
With no grass, no boots, these players dedicate part of their day time to practice one or two drills as they prepare ahead of a game in the newly revived Lupane Soccer League. Come match day, on any given Sunday afternoon, Lupane’s famed Somhlolo Stadium is abuzz as teams from those sandy village grounds troop in for a contest.
A few in football circles are yet to realise that soccer seems to keep the villages of Lupane breathing. Every Sunday a match takes place amid noise and a carnival of colour.
From that swath of sand, a crop of young football talents is emerging. Having started off out of a community sport development initiative by the Sport and Recreation Commission, Lupane Soccer League failed to rise because of lack of funding.
Then came one Lupane native, an industrialist of repute Letsweletse Nsimbi and the game’s resurgence started to unearth gems.
With seven teams contesting the league, nothing more catches the eye than sheer talent that clubs in the big league do not have. This season, after securing a financial backing, the league’s spokesperson Permanent Sibanda said players have upped the competition on field.
“For years football in Lupane has been on the low. We have had players from the sandy villages with so much talent abandoning the game because there was no hope. Without monetary assistance, basic resources and commitment, it was hard to have a talk about starting a football league,” said Sibanda.
Teams that trade in the league are second-placed Mtshibini Young Stars, Lupane City, United Forces, Hotspurs, Shining Stars, Invaders and Mhlahlandlela.
B-Metro Sport had the time to watch a match pitting the 2019 champions Lupane City and Invaders FC in the Nsimbi End of Season Cup. The exposure was an awe drawing moment of seeing talent.
The player’s average age in the league according to Permanent Sibanda is 19.
“The dedication that the youngsters have is second to none. They travel from as far as St Luke’s, Jotsholo, villages of Shabula, Lupanda, Ndimimbili and Matshiya to play here at Lupane Centre. Before the day of the matches, they would have trained in makeshift grounds with heavy sandy soils. It is unthinkable that they can play good football until you get to watch them,” said Sibanda, a respected sports administrator in Matabeleland north.
Nsimbi, who has since turned the “Messiah” of Lupane Soccer League has went all the way to sponsor the rest of the league, adding a cup tournament with the sole aim of promoting youngsters.
“After seeing how the people of Lupane love sport, it was fit that I chip in and help clubs in the league realise their dreams. On being told of stories of how the players toil to train and find time to compete with no resources at all, I felt touched. It is out of pure love for the game of football that my businesses are involved in the promotion of talent here.
“The aim is to work together with these young players, their parents and fans. I call for the continued mutual relationship that has engulfed the district as we foster ahead with exposing that the future of sport in Lupane is bright.”
Nsimbi, through his sport philanthropic initiative, also supplies the necessary sporting equipment and kits to all the teams and encourages the development of juniors’ leagues in the district.
“Through the Nsimbi Cup, Lupane Soccer League scouts for promising talent. Next season plans are there to host bigger tournaments that attract teams from elsewhere,” he said.
The businessman assured that in the near future, a development academy will be formed to help market players to other leagues locally and abroad.
“We have connections with football people all over the world. To show that we mean business, already we are creating beneficial relations with football clubs in Botswana and South Africa.
“The passion is there, it’s real. Promoting sporting talent in Lupane is a project that we have to push further. There is always some kind of magic when communities support such an initiative,” said Nsimbi who retraces his football roots as a player in the Division Two leagues across the country and in Botswana.