When social footbal league gets serious

HARARE - These two social football clubs lack glittering CVs but tell that to anyone of the fans who have thronged Raylton Sports Club and you risk going home with a black eye.

This venue, famous in the 90s when it used to be the training facility for both Dynamos and CAPS United, hums with activity as Ajax Harare and Hustlers 11 battle for supremacy in a derby that is all about pride.

On this particular afternoon, Ajax are also out to get some revenge after they went down 2-1 to their opponents the previous weekend during a tournament held in the capital.

The rivalry goes beyond the margins of the pitch as the many of the avid supporters as well as some of the players on the pitch are Harare street foreign currency dealers.

Hustlers 11 is made up of mainly foreign currency dealers, who operate along Fourth Street while Ajax Harare’s roots can be traced back to Nelson Mandela Avenue.

It is therefore no surprise that these two streets, which have since become the hubs of foreign currency trading, had little activity in the run-up and during the course of this match.

Only a few female forex dealers are seen chasing after vehicles in the hope of finding customers.

A complete set of match officials — a referee and his two assistants — are at hand to take charge of this potentially explosive encounter, something which is rare on the local social football scene.

A decent crowd that is more than that of the those that have gone to the National Sports Stadium to witness the opening game of the 2017 Premier Soccer League season between Harare City and Yadah FC, is in attendance.

On the pitch, both teams have surprise packages in their midst and on this particular afternoon, Hustlers 11 have an ace up their sleeve in the form of Edward Sadomba.

The striker, who holds the all-time African Confederation Cup group stages scoring record, is home enjoying the off-season from Ittihad Kalba in the UAE.

Sadomba who won the Caf Golden Boot in 2011 as well as in 2012 and is using the game to remain match fit during his break is, however, given no respect and has a tough time cracking the Ajax defence. But as the old adage goes, form is temporary and class is permanent; the 33-year-old opens the scoring with a poachers finish inside the box midway through the first half.

From there on, the Ajax defenders start doubling up on the former Warriors forward as they try to stop his influence on the game.

Moments later, Hustlers are 2-0 up and you guessed it right; Sadomba is in the thick of things.

The striker toys around with the Ajax defenders on the left side before sending an inch-perfect cross into the box where Never “Chibeka” Chinodakufa is unmarked to head home the second.

The celebrations are as wild as it can get as there is a pitch invasion while vuvuzelas from the Hustlers fans pierce the air. 

While the teams are strutting it out on the pitch the wheels of money-changing have not stopped turning in the terraces.

“Our business is unlike yours, we don’t have shifts, work days or leave days. If we stop working we stop making money,” one forex dealer tells the Daily News on Sunday.

His business is quickly interrupted by an altercation on the pitch involving Chinodakufa and one of the Ajax players.

Both benches rush onto the pitch as commotion ensues.

After a brief stoppage both players get yellow cards from the referee allowing the match to continue.

Ajax now have the upper hand as the match heads towards halftime and are given a lifeline when they pull one back shortly before the break.

During the half time break, both teams retreat to their separate corners to get refreshments and insights from the coaches.

When the second half starts, Ajax have the momentum as they press forward for an equaliser while Hustlers are on the back foot. It does not take long for the Ajax tide to overwhelm their opponents’ defence when they equalise with a wonderful team effort.

With the scores now level, tensions start to boil over as the referee’s every decision is queried by the offending party.

In the end the referee is forced to abandon the match with 65 minutes on the clock in order to quell the rising tempers.

Those who frequent these matches despite the early conclusion, it’s all about football and nothing else. 

Ajax Harare benefactor Eddie Chimedza, who has seen his social football club selling players to Premiership teams, is one man who believes the talent here is one of the best.

His side is currently enjoying a purple patch after one of their star players Yves Ebabali was snapped up by Bulawayo giants Highlanders, who are one of the favourites to win the PSL title this season.

“We are reaping the rewards of years of hard work,” Chimedza says. “So far there is Ebabali who has just signed with Highlanders.

“You will recall that just two years ago, he had been rendered excess to requirement by some Premiership teams, but we took him in and gave him back his confidence. On Yves, Highlanders got a gem.

“I guarantee you he will give them more than 10 goals. There is also Nkosi Mhlanga who signed with Shabanie Mine. The Chinda Boys is a good place to launch a career.”

The side has also had players signed in the lower leagues.

“Derick Chitsanzara went to Herentals FC, I don’t see him spending more than six months in Division One.”

Chimedza believes there are more talented players waiting to be unleashed into the top sides.

“You know some of these players it’s all about confidence and a platform to express their talent. At Ajax we give players the stage and they end up being signed easily.”

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