Football is the most followed sport in the world. Every week, people gather in stadia and some are glued to television sets in homes and show rooms to follow the most beautiful game.
For those privileged, the game is played in state-of-the-art facilities whereas in some parts, especially in remote areas, it is played everywhere even on bare grounds.
In some remotest parts of Malawi, you will notice football grounds in makeshift fences, especially during the weekend.
It is now a common practice in rural areas that teams erect fences of grass, mats or plastic sheets when they organise football matches.
The idea is to make sure that people pay to watch the games to generate revenue. These makeshift fences are everywhere across the country.
For starters, when you visit, these places in the afternoon between 2pm and 3pm during the weekends, you will be greeted with long queues of people waiting to pay to watch their favourite teams.
In most cases, people pay a minimum of K200 on the entrance to watch a football match in some remote areas.
Interestingly, security at such community grounds is so tight that no spectator uses unchartered routes to access match venues.
During the games, few individuals are selected to man the gates while others provide security.
A typical example of a rural match venue where revenue is generated is Nsalu Admarc Ground in Lilongwe Rural.
At Nsalu, the community mobilised resources which they used to purchase mats for the makeshift fence.
Coach for Nsalu United Isaac Timbe said there were a number of factors that determine gate revenue in rural areas.
“We normally realise more money on Sunday compared to Saturday. Most of the time people are busy in their respective fields on Saturday. Again, when we advertise well we get more money,” Timbe said.
On average, the team gets about K600,000 in gate revenue per month after playing eight matches—translating to two matches every weekend.
This means Nsalu are able to realise K7.2 million every year.
Another good example is Lobi Young Soccer based in Tradional Authority Kachere, Dedza District, about 30 kilometres off the M1 Road from Lithipe 1.
Just like many rural areas, at Lobi, there are many ardent soccer followers. In some selected matches, they erect the makeshift fences to generate resources.
Spokesperson for Lobi FC, Snoden Nachiola, said they realised that football is a money spinner.
“Previously, people were just watching the matches for free. But we realised that we were sitting on untapped gold; so, we started charging a small entry fee,” Nachiola said.
For Lobi, they use revenue generated from the games for operations of the team including buying equipment, transport in away matches, food and players allowances.
While in other areas, community members mobilise resources; in some areas individuals invest their own resources.
Kasiya-based man Yang’a Raphael Banda has ventured into football business as an unlicenced football agent in the rural areas.
His business interest in the game motivated Banda to use personal resources to purchase mats, nets and match balls, which he hires out to some teams in the rural parts of Lilongwe.
Additionally, he organises football matches on behalf of the communities where he takes all the proceeds from the gates.
Times Sport crew recently visited Chikowa Ground in Tradional Authority Kabudula, Lilongwe, to watch one of the matches.
During the visit, Banda briefed us that he was a popular figure among football teams in the area due to his transparency and accountability.
“My role is to arrange matches for teams. I always bring my mats to erect the fence. On top of that, I bring goalposts nets and my own football commentators who entertain the crowd during the matches,” he said.
According to Banda, due to his marketing skills, a single match grosses about K500,000 in gate revenues translating to K2 million per month if he organises four matches. He also organises matches every Tuesday, taking advantage of market days.
Up north, there are also several football match venues where revenues are generated. Laudani Primary School Ground situated in Embangweni, Mzimba District—is one of the popular match venues.
Team Manager for Embangweni United Cleanwell Munthali acknowledged that they use football to generate resources.
“On average, we get K100,000 per game. But it depends on the popularity of the teams,’’ Munthali said.
Former Mighty Wanderers striker Diverson Chilemba, who is coaching Belewu Young Challengers in Chikwawa District, believes that rural football has potential to generate more revenue.
“People love football a lot in rural parts. The only problem is that there is lack of proper infrastructure to ensure that more money is generated from football,” Chilemba said.
In some big matches in Belewu, the communities erect a fence in which fans pay a minimum of K200 to access the match venue.
While others are using the game to generate resources, there are some passionate people across the country who have invested their personal resources in infrastructure.
Recently, Malawi National Council of Sports (MNCS) honoured Machinga-based police officer Kanduwa Sande, who built a Sports Complex using his monthly savings.
The 42-year old policeman turned a once forsaken Kasupe football pitch into a sports complex with facilities including a running track, netball court and climbing walls for children.
Sande started his work in 2011 and people labelled him crazy.
There might be several reasons that motivated him to spend his personal resources and time on building a facility that will benefit the community for many years.
Sande told local and international media that his main aim was to develop sports at grassroots level and also reduce cases of crime in the area.
There might be several passionate people who are ready to invest in sports infrastructures.
Another shining example is Aubrey Dimba based at Kapiri, Mchinji District.
He turned a once forgotten community ground into a football stadium in the district.
Dimba, a former Mau Mau FC player, got injured during his playing career due to poor conditions of the rural pitches.
“I wanted to make positive change in the society. The best was to construct a good football ground to reduce injuries among players in rural areas,” Dimba, who kept a tight lid on how much he invested in the ground, said.
Since the facility opened its doors, it has hosted several TNM Super League teams including Silver Strikers, Civil Service United and TN Stars.
How rural teams share gate revenues
While elite clubs in domestic football continue to cry foul over how gate revenue is shared, the story is different in rural football.
In elite football, there is a syndicate of people that thrives on gate collections. Every game is marred by gate revenue fraud in the top flight league. For starters, in elite football, ground owners pocket 25 percent of gross revenue with teams also getting the same share.
Local football governing body, Football Association of Malawi (Fam) and Super League of Malawi (Sulom) usually get 10 percent each from the gross revenue whereas Sports Council gets five percent.
But the arrangement is different in the rural parts of the country. In rural areas, the teams agree on how the revenues should be shared.
In some cases, the home team takes it all. But the fact is that rural football has potential to generate more gate revenue.