Innocent Kurira, Sports Reporter
WITH soccer balls at their feet, the young boys squat around the football pitch.
The sight of these boys is familiar in most local football.
In football circles they are called a ‘ball boys’.
Over the past decade, they have been at the centre of controversy, as some have termed them the 13th man on the field of play.
Their evolution has seen them moving from just being ball boys on the side of the pitch side to some degree determining match outcomes.
They provide that extra second for a counter attack or delay the proceedings by taking their time in returning the ball.
Ball boys in the local league have on many occasions been caught on the wrong side of the action.
From time wasting to some instances being accused of carrying juju for home teams, the ball boys’ influence on the field of play cannot be ignored.
Following incidents of their unsporting behaviour at certain matches, the PSL has on a number of occasions considered placing punitive measures to curb the errant behaviour of the boys.
In 2019 the PSL board of governors noted with concern the abuse of ball boys/girls by clubs and resolved to charge clubs $2 000 for the offence.
They viewed abuse of ball boys/girls as instructing ball boys/girls to withhold footballs, frustrate opponents, employ time-wasting tactics during matches or any other action that the referee may deem an act of mischief.
Despite all negatives surrounding the ball boys in the country, their role, if done correctly, is of great importance in the modern game.
They should be in a position to retrieve and supply balls, helping to speed up play by reducing the amount of inactive time.
They should avoid long delays when the ball goes out of play.
But what excites these young boys into taking on the big responsibility of being a ball boy and not be intimidated by the multitudes that come to the stadia.
“The first match l became a ball boy was when Zimbabwe played Lesotho. After that l did the same duties in many other local league games. To be honest l was very scared, the stadium had so many people, but it was an awesome experience for me,” said Sane Khumalo, one of the ball boys.
“I was 15 years old at that time and l was just starting my junior football career. I believe the experience of watching national team players live and on the pitch side helped me to be where l am today. I remember when l left the stadium l told myself someday it will be me on that pitch playing in front of all those people
“It is not easy being a ball boy because the fans put so much pressure on you and sometimes you just get confused, but l think it’s a learning curve for us as players because you gather confidence from that experience such that when you come back as a player your confidence is already high and you don’t struggle to play in front of people.
“I have never carried juju for a game myself, but the fans ask you to do all sorts of things during the game. Some of them are just funny; mostly fans want you to urinate behind the goal posts.
When their team is leading, they want you off the pitch yet you are there to do your job. At first l got intimidated, but l got used to it as time went on. I think all those experiences make you a better player at the end of the day,” he said.
Form 2 learner and Mpumelelelo Stars junior player Simba Goredema said it’s fun to be part of match day proceedings.
“As a player it has to inspire you to be in a position where someone is picking up balls for you. Usually the home team selects the ball boys and the home team is the team we will be routing for so it’s normal to delay or throw back the ball fast depending on how the game is going. I think that also helps in understanding the game better. I have heard that some ball boys carry juju for teams, but l have never found myself in such a situation,” said Goredema.
“For me being a ball boy is fun because l will be closer to the action. You will actually be closer to the players, some of who give you inspiration. The fans don’t intimidate me; it’s actually more fun when the stadium is full.” — @innocentskizoe