A SIGNPOST pointing to Illovo Sugar Estate is located on the side of the Lakeshore Road, almost a kilometre before reaching Dwangwa Trading Centre, in Nkhotakota District.
The road to the estate is just like any other in the estate area- dusty, bumpy and not enjoyable. As you go through the six kilometre journey from the tarmac road leading to Illovo Sugar Factory, a throw of eyes in all the directions will limit you to the sight of sugar cane fields and a few houses of factory employees.
Until you bump into another signpost with a screaming inscription: ‘Welcome to Chitowe Stadium’, there is nothing sporty in the area worth the attention of a sports fan.
As a stranger on a day visit, you might be quick to judge life at the estate as boring; but to the sports sector, Dwangwa Estate is no ordinary name. This is one area with a massive pool of football talent that has benefitted local and foreign clubs alike.
The country’s national football teams, at all levels, have also reaped immensely from the talent developed at this lakeshore territory. That is the story of the Dwangwa Estate League that has been around for the past 38 years. What started as an amateur league to keep employees busy during off days and weekends back in 1979, is no longer the pride of estate dwellers alone.
It has turned out to be a beneficial move on the football front as it has managed to supply the Super League with numerous players over the years. Illovo launched the estate league barely four years after the opening of Dwangwa Sugar Factory in 1975 with the aim of keeping its employees entertained during weekends.
This saw the formation of teams in almost all the company’s sections within the estate. Enjoying good sponsorship from the company through the provision of sports equipment and good training grounds, the estate teams attracted many players from within and outside the estate. The first fruit of the setup was the formation of Dwasco Football Club in the late 1980s, which recruited outstanding players from the estate league.
Dwasco later joined the Lilongwe and Districts Football League in the early Years of sweet success 1990s, where the team played for a number of years before earning promotion into the Super League in 1998.
Some of the prominent names of players who cut their teeth in the league are Esau Kanyenda, Trust Lunda, George Nyirenda, Sankhani Mkandawire, Jaffalie Chande, Joel Chipofya, Bester Phiri, Chimwemwe Chitedze, Harold Chimombo, Sankhani Nyirenda, Wisdom Ndhlovu and Morris Chiuma. The league’s success story may be incomplete without special mention of current Dwangwa United Technical Director, Lloyd Nkhwazi, who has been nurturing raw talent from the league.
Nkhwazi’s 14-year stay at the estate as Dwangwa United coach before moving to Nyasa Big Bullets was fruitful as he was at the helm of scouting youngsters from the estate league. It is not a surprise that most of the players that emerged from Dwangwa were spotted by Nkhwazi.
“I used to watch estate league games and each time I spotted promising talent, I would take the player to Dwangwa United,” Nkhwazi said. He said he used to encourage the players to aim high and look beyond playing for Dwangwa United. “That was why players like Esau managed to go straight to South Africa without even playing for any of our local giants,” he said.
After toiling in the fields from Monday to Friday, weekends are perfect days for football lovers in the area as the estate league games offer them time to relax and sample the emerging home talent. With each section having its own team and football pitch, the passion for the game has just been phenomenal.
As soccer pundits have been questioning lack of development channels for our youngsters, the estate ensures that players go through proper development stages as the age groups of 12, 14 and 16 have their own leagues. A player graduating from teams in such age groups joins main estate teams where he stands a chance of playing for Dwangwa United.
“Competition in the estate league is very high since it is a combination of talent from different areas as players who play in the league come from different districts. So everyone works hard to make it to Dwangwa United,” said Dwangwa United midfielder, Jack Chiona, who is also a product of the league.
The league’s success story has not been by sheer luck as Illovo Sugar Company invested a lot by not only pumping in an annual sponsorship of K5 million in all the leagues, but also by providing match venues. The company has also been supporting the league’s referees to improve their performance by participating in cooper tests conducted by the National Football Referees Committee and the Football Association of Malawi.
Dwangwa referees chairman, Joseph Nyirongo, said improved levels of officiation have contributed to the success of the league. “By participating in cooper tests and other training programs, the standards of officiation have improved as the referees are able to apply laws of the game,” said Nyirongo.
He said the major setback is the level of education among some referees who cannot even write a match report.
Illovo’s efforts in ensuring that referees in the estate league attain higher qualifications have seen the league producing its own grade one, two and three referees who also officiate Super League games played at Chitowe Stadium.
Estate League General Secretary, Davie Mwandira, says he is pleased that the league, apart from being a nursery for Dwangwa United, is also producing disciplined players.
“We make sure that we instill discipline in these players at an early stage and we are happy that the players we have produced have not let us down,” Mwandira said