Malawi women football is coming of age, but do more

I got a very good question from my son Tupochele as we watched the group qualifying round match of the Cosafa Women’s Football Championship that took place in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe between Malawi and Zambia that where and how are these players chosen to represent Malawi because, he said, he had never seen women play the beautiful game competitively here.

I asked him why he was asking that and he answered that the Malawian girls were playing very good football, showing that they do showcase their talent elsewhere where they are spotted and drafted into the national team — but where do they play competitively in order to be noticed they are that good? — he asked.

A tough one, huh? And very good observation. The Malawi national women football team have participated several times at the Cosafa tournament and other continental championship and they have come back after being walloped mercilessly but this time around, they put up such a good fight in the group stages when they were beaten 3-6 against very experienced Zambia; beat fellow less-fancied Madagascar 6-3 and drew 3-3 with the hosts Zimbabwe.

What was amazing in all three matches were the girls’ team spirit and sense of fighting on even when the odds seemed against them—especially against Zambia, who routed Madagascar 7-1 and drew 1-1 with Zimbabwe.

At the centre of it all was Tabitha Chawinga, who scored two hat-tricks — first in the 3-6 loss to Zambia and the second plus one in the 6-3 win over Madagascar.

I concur with Tupochele’s observation, not because he is my son but that indeed our women football never receive the attraction that can make fans follow Tabitha and her team-mates’ exploits locally.

I explained to him that women’s football rarely attracts so much attention over the African continent and that as he noticed from the Cosafa tournament, only Zimbabwe games were attracting more fans because they were hosts. And he observed that most of the fans of other games were school students, to which I explained that they probably were ushered in free of charge, like what happens here in Malawi on Open Schools’ Day during the International Trade Fair.

Even in Europe or elsewhere, women’s football is watched by few fans as opposed to men’s version. It’s usually their World Cup and at the Olympic Games that patronage increases so much.

I suggest that we all have the duty to make women’s football glamorous and that can happen if it is played alongside the men’s competitions — especially those organised by the Football Association of Malawi (FAM).

About 15 years or more ago, women football Maggie Chombo emerged into prominence out of the blues when she played in a social football match that was a curtain-raiser for a competitive match at Kamuzu Stadium.

As the fans settled in awaiting the big match they started noticing some very good talent from one youthful player in former referee, late Charles Kafatia’s team—most of whom were order players. Then they learnt that that the exceptional player was actually a girl.

When it dawned on them the fans started taking keen interest on the match and every time late Kafatia’s team won possession of the ball, the fans would shout in unison to pass it to young Maggie and every time she touched the ball, her next move was amazing — much to the affectionate pleasure from the crowd, who always gave her a loud ovation.

Maggie Chombo became the icon of women’s football when it was established as more women’s teams emerged and today, having retired, she is part of FAM’s technical panel.

When FAM is organising its tournaments — the Carlsberg Cup, the FISD Challenge and the Airtel Top 8 — perhaps it should consider arranging some special tournaments for women football to be alongside men’s tournaments as curtain-raisers — especially from quarterfinal level.

Curtain-raisers used to attract fans to patronise football venues in good time. They added value of the main games and if we can consider bringing them back but using women’s football, we shall create more glamour for these girls that would attract more girls to take up the sport.

Some sort of arrangement can be made that women’s football should get the attraction that it deserves so that more youths can get attracted to the game knowing they shall be watched and admired seriously by all football fans — not just their fellow women.

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