SEVERIA Chalira had one dream in mind when she began her romance with football during her primary school days at St. Peter’s in Mzuzu in the 1980s– to see Malawian women actively involved in the game at all levels.
She came into the game without any background and rose through the ranks over the years to become the chairperson of the National Women’s Football Committee (NWFC).
Born in 1973 in a family of four girls, one would find it difficult to understand why Chalira became so passionate about football which is deemed as a reserve for boys only especially during that time.
Background and passion for football Chalira says in those years, there was no such thing like women’s football. girls were confined to netball, while football was strictly for boys.
Having realised that it was impossible for her to play the game she dearly loved, Chalira settled for netball but still found time to cheer her school’s football team each time it was playing.
She might have been playing netball but her heart was not there. She was madly in love with football and felt at home while watching the beautiful game.
She recalls that former Nyasa Big Bullets Coach, Mabvuto Lungu, was one of the big names in the team.
“It is possible that my passion for what was a game for men only stemmed from the fact that I was born in a family of girls and I was longing for male company…I don’t know. But I just loved football and felt bad that girls could not be actively involved in it,” she says.
Somehow, she managed to sneak her way into the game by asking to feature in goals during one of her school team’s training sessions. Many laughed at her and said she was crazy. But Chalira insisted and was given a chance to appease her.
As a token of appreciation to the team for allowing her to train, she mobilised fellow pupils to form a vibrant supporters committee which helped in bringing better results during competitions like the Mayor’s Trophy.
Her passion for the game continued to grow like wildfire and she found herself following football outside her school.
She took interest in various football matches being played around the country through match commentaries broadcast on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation.
Her heart found joy in hearing names like Peterkins Kayira and Lungu in the commentaries as they were her classmates at St. Peter’s. Chalira also recalls going to the same school with other football stars like late Paul Mhango and late Aaron Madhlopa who went on to star for giants and Mighty Wanderers and Big Bullets respectively.
During the later years, she became a regular visitor to Mzuzu Stadium for TNM Super League matches and cup games in tournaments like Embassy Trophy and Press Cup.
“At that time, the sight of women watching games at the stadium was quite rare. There were just very few of us going to the stadium. But I was not deterred,” Chalira says.
The birth of women’s football In the mid 1990s, Chalira returned from Domasi College of Education in Zomba after finishing her studies. Though the assignments she was given thereafter made her much busier than before, her love for the game never waned. She continued visiting Mzuzu Stadium during weekends to watch football matches.
On one occasion back in 1998, Chalira saw a notice on the board at the stadium calling for interested women to pioneer women’s football in the Northern Region.
Then stadium supervisor, late Maston Msukwa, approached Chalira and asked her if she could be interested to be part of the executive committee after noticing her interest in the game from her usual patronisation of games at the stadium.
“I readily accepted and told him that I was very willing because it was my long-cherished dream to see women’s football taking root in the country,” she says. The following week, the then Football Association of Malawi (Fam) General Secretary, Steve Padambo, visited Mzuzu in a move that confirmed the birth of the game amongst ladies in the region.
“He told us in a meeting the following day at Sunbird Mzuzu Hotel that the world’s football governing body, Fifa, wanted women’s soccer to start in the country. But the challenge was on how to get started,” she explained.
The meeting was solely meant to ask the region’s stakeholders in the game to mobilise women to start registering. At the end of that meeting, Chalira was among the first to form the region’s interim executive committee.
The committee got started by placing notices just outside the stadium calling on interested women to register. Chalira recalls sitting under one of the trees outside Mzuzu Stadium waiting for interested ladies to register with her. Married women dominated the early days of registration with very few girls turning up.
“We later discovered that ‘women’s soccer’ was confusing to many. To some, it meant that only women were eligible for the game. But the girls finally joined after being told that were also welcome,” Chalira says.
By the end of the first two weeks, the committee had managed to lure over 45 women into the game. Chalira says the first challenge was that the women had no ball to use for their inaugural training session.
This forced the stadium supervisor to source a tattered ball and the ladies happily took to the pitch at Mzuzu Upper Stadium. Seeing women playing football for the first time ever was too much for some passers-by.
Chalira explains that the women were called all sorts of names, with others saying they were there because they had nothing to do. But the negative comments did little to bother the group. Chalira says the women were just too excited to play football for the first time ever.
“It was quite funny. All the players on the pitch were just running to where the ball was without necessarily minding about their positions. There was no referee, and we were not observing the rules of the game.”
Eventually, things started taking shape and the girls were turning up for the game in their numbers. But the number of women began to decline as some married women were finding it hard to put on shorts.
The game’s profile continued to grow and its status was confirmed with the birth of the first ever girls’ football competition called Youth Alert Girls Soccer competition in 2002.
The current status of women’s football Chalira is the only female member of the current Fam Executive Committee and says women’s football has undergone position transformation over the years.
“I am happy that my dream has now come true. Girls now know the rules of the game and are playing to their maximum potential. We have even produced professional women footballers. That makes me very proud,” Chalira says.
On her future plans, Chalira says she would like to introduce a national women’s football league similar to the men’s Super League to further raise the profile of the women’s game.
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