My Chat with Ball Boys
I have heard numerous times people testifying how Malawians love football; local and international.
“It is only unfortunate that the Flames [our national team] do not give us what we deserve [the results],” said one passenger in a Limbe - Blantyre minibus I boarded one Sunday, contributing his thoughts on how Malawians can go wild in loving football.
There was a match that Sunday at Kamuzu stadium in the country’s topflight league; TNM Super League. About 90 percent of passengers in that minibus boarded off at Shoprite, of course me inclusive.
We all headed to the stadium to watch the match. We parted ways as they used the entrance to open stands and I went to the VIP stands.
Allow me not to mention who were playing but they are crowd pullers in the game.
It was about 14:15hrs. That Sunday, Blantyre registered about 40°C. It was extremely hot in the city. I believed what the passengers in that bus said about people’s love for football when I saw how people defied the heat wave and flocked the terraces in the open stands of the soccer mecca, just to cheer up their teams.
The comment that fast rang bells in mind from one of the passengers is that “had it been football were a religion, most of us would have been saved.” I literary believed what he said.
14:30hrs and the referee blew the whistle to kick-off the match. Midway first half, the team broke for a cooling break. Players took some minutes to cool down and take some water because it was too hot.
It was then that one of the teenaged ball boys caught my attention. He looked exhausted as he grabbed a bottle of water to quench his thirst.
These are the ball boys who stand the extreme heat during the 90+ minutes of the match on the touch line serving players with the balls when the ball gets into touch for a throw in, free or a goal kick. They do the same even during rains without umbrellas or rain coats.
They endured the extreme heat wave for the entire match on the touch line. At half time, I descended the VIP stands down to the touch line to have a chat with some of these kids.
I was greeted by gloomy faces. Their faces told me they were executing their duties with all their might. I identified myself and they relaxed. They said they will only talk to me on conditions; no recorder, no identities. I agreed and we sat on the artificial turf. Our chat began.
“How much do you earn from this job?” I asked one of them, a Standard 7 learner in one of the city’s townships’ schools. “We get K1, 000 [about a pound] after the game. The amount varies with games. Sometimes we even get as less as K500,” he answered.
Before the next question, they, four in number, chipped in expressing their plight. “We just do this because we need the money and we love football, otherwise K1, 000 is nothing these days.
“You know what?” he asked me. “No, I don’t,” I answered. “We get in the stadium in the morning around 9. Up to now, we haven’t eaten anything. They [football officials] have just given us these bottles of water yet they have taken their meals. For us, we will have a bite after getting our K1, 000 after the game. Sometimes, we don’t even eat because we take the money home,” one of the boys said.
“If given a chance to talk to them, we would have asked them to raise the money [they suggested K5, 000 minimum]. We know some people involved in the game get away with big shares; the gate collectors, security personnel, officiating personnel and others; they receive better perks. We are all important to the game,” he added.
The boys also told me that the jersey and boots they had put on that day were personal. They are players in their locations’ football teams and the jerseys are for those particular teams.
While I was thinking about their plight, plight for the game loved by many, the game that is enriching many, the half time break was over. Teams entered the pitch for second half to kick-off.
My ball boy friends returned to their spots to wind up the match for them to get their K1, 000 payments. That was also the end of my chat with the ball boys.