EDITORIAL COMMENT: Let the games begin!
TODAY is a big day for domestic football.
THE long-awaited 2023 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League season is set for kick-off with all the 18 teams in action this weekend.
Four games, spread across the country this afternoon, will give the fans and other stakeholders a glimpse of what to expect this year.
But the domestic game will need to do more to win back the fans and the following they have lost to the competing foreign leagues like the English Premiership and the Spanish La Liga.
The fans are particularly interested in watching good, exciting football to get entertainment value for their money.
The same is expected by the sponsors to keep the game alive as a business concern.
Unfortunately, the domestic game had suffered from poor attendance, especially in the last two seasons.
The situation was made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, which literally affected all spheres of life, with sport among the hardest hit.
Due to the Covid-19 restrictions and the accompanying legislation meant to contain the pandemic, normalcy took long to return to sports like football because of their nature as high-contact activities
In Zimbabwe, the league programme skipped one year and had to integrate the 2021 and 2022 programmes into a single season.
It was more of testing the waters, but the general outlook was not encouraging.
The spectators had lost interest and were not going to the stadiums.
A big number switched to the foreign leagues, which offered a better diversion.
As a result, the local football enthusiasts know more about the European teams as compared to the domestic ones, despite the close proximity.
That is why it is easy for an average Zimbabwean football fan to know every detail about the whole squad of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal or Liverpool but they cannot name half the team of FC Platinum, who have won the domestic league title four times in a row.
It seems our own football league has now become a second or third option. But that mentality has to change. How the Premier Soccer League will change the perceptions this season and turn back the hand of time to the period where local football was massive, is their own baby.
Certainly, we may give the local clubs the benefit of the doubt for the repulsive showing last season.
Probably it was due to the Covid-19 disruptions that the standards of the game had plummeted when the league returned last year.
But there were no such distractions ahead of the 2023 season.
The clubs had all the time to prepare to their satisfaction during the pre-season.
There has been a lot of activity during the January transfer window.
It was probably one of the liveliest in recent years, with clubs jostling for players to beef up their squads ahead of the new challenges.
Technical teams were reshuffled across the board, with the understanding that the primary concern is to improve the quality of the game.
ZIFA even remembered to conduct a refresher course, for the first time in many years, to assist the CAF A coaches, who are the only ones allowed by the regulations to sit on the bench this season, to get up to speed with the new trends in football.
So, in terms of the quality of the game, we anticipate a massive improvement. Spectators want to see exciting football.
They want to see new football stars emerging week in and week out, rather than the continuous recycling of tired legs that no longer have anything new to hoist the final product.
The Premier Soccer League have said that one of their key targets this season is to fill up the football stadiums again.
This is a noble vision considering the fans are one of the most important ingredients to any successful and entertaining sport competition.
Without fans in the stadium, the game will suffer in a big way.
The footballers themselves and the clubs which they represent will feel the pinch because they cannot afford to play just to entertain themselves.
They need to get a living out of it.
Solutions are needed to turn things around in football.
The Premier Soccer League should be applauded for taking note of this important factor, which was also discussed at the AGM yesterday
Recently they held workshops with the clubs and sponsors Delta Beverages to tackle the various challenges.
The PSL said clubs will need to engage with their fans as part of the implementation process following resolutions made during the three-day induction and strategic plan review workshop held in Bulawayo.
The onus is now with the clubs on how they are going to strategise and plan to lure back their fans. A lot of dynamics come into play because it is not easy to win back the fans’ interest in a world that is ever-evolving and filled with so many other counter-attractions.
The bottom line, however, is that domestic football has to restore its glamour this year. May the best team win in 2023.