Eddie Chikamhi, Harare Bureau
WARRIORS Legends’ coach, Sunday Chidzambwa, has said the big crowd that thronged the National Sports Stadium on Sunday was a huge indictment to the domestic Premiership that has of late been struggling to lure supporters to their league matches.
An estimated 35 000-strong crowd, according to official figures from the Sport and Recreation Commission, filled the giant stadium to watch the yesteryear soccer heroes in an entertaining exhibition match against Barcelona Legends that ended in a 2-2 draw.
Chidzambwa said such attendances are rarely seen in the domestic matches where even the traditional blockbuster fixtures such as the Harare Derby and the Battle of Zimbabwe are struggling to attract half the size of the crowd that turned up on Sunday.
Big clubs like Dynamos and Highlanders, who used to attract an average 13 000 to 15 000 paying spectators during their home games, have also been affected, with the figures significantly going down to around 7 000.
The smaller teams have suffered the most as they sometimes fail to sell 100 tickets.
The former Warriors’ coach said the enthusiasm to watch former stars in action demonstrated that Zimbabweans love football but were probably being put off by the poor quality of play being dished out these days.
“This game brought very good old memories. When I saw the crowds I thought of our match against Mali in 2003. Most of these guys (Warriors Legends) played in that game, it was very touching.
“I think you also saw how big the crowd that attended the match was. To me this is the best crowd that I have seen this season and I think you will agree with me.
“From the stand point of playing the Barcelona Legends, it also does promote sports tourism.
“(But to bring back such crowds to PSL), I am afraid to say it has to start at the clubs. The clubs have to try and look for good players, play good football so that the fans come and watch.
“Supporters would love to come and watch good football.
“They don’t want to watch rubbish. In our clubs we need to improve, we need to start from the grassroots. Get young players from the grassroots, admit them into our systems, play good football and crowds will come,” said Chidzambwa.
The legends from both sets had some vital lessons to dish out to the young generation.
From the audacious bicycle kick by Zenzo Moyo for Zimbabwe’s opener to the control and possession play by the Barcelona Legends was amazing.
The supporters got full value for their money.
The Sports Commission, who organised the Legends match were excited by the turnout, and challenged clubs to go out of their way in trying to bring back crowds to the football stadium.
SRC spokesperson, Tirivashe Nheweyembwa said the exhibition match was an eye-opener.
“We are quite happy in terms of the attendance. I think we last saw the kind of crowds during the days of the Dream Team era.
“The PSL and the clubs need to do more in terms of marketing their teams. They shouldn’t be waiting for the previews in the newspapers to advertise their games.
“As clubs they need to build special relationships with their supporters through advertising, marketing and promotions. Brand loyalty is developed over a period of time.
“We are happy with the response we got on Sunday. I think it was a befitting honour to the President (Robert Mugabe) because this match was also played in honour of his outstanding statesmanship.
“This match was a huge success and it shouldn’t end there. The visitors were very happy and excited by their trip to Zimbabwe.
“We had planned for them to go to Victoria Falls and it’s quite unfortunate that could not materialise because of certain technicalities on their travel arrangements.
“But at the end of the day they noted Zimbabwe is a safe destination, tranquil and welcoming to visitors,” said Nheweyembwa.