GAME ON! with BENEDICT TEMBO
THE 2016 soccer season closed last Saturday with Zesco United, expectedly, clinching the runners-up spot in the MTN-Super Division and snapping up the remaining slot to represent the country in the Confederations Cup in 2017.
With Zanaco having secured the Super Division title with a game to spare, the contest for the runners-up slot was between Zesco, who this year reached the semi-finals of the African Champions League, and Nkana.
The run-up to the closing of the season saw Nkana, the 12-time Super Division champions, protest to FAZ to have the week 34 matches played at the same time to seemingly forestall match fixing.
This forced FAZ, whose running of the fixtures involving Zesco was ill-handled to succumb to Nkanaâ€™s demand and delay the end of the league by a week.
Nkana were right because the end was going to be anti-climax as Zesco had remained with a game in hand against Lumwana Radiants in North-Western Province.
And it came to pass that Zesco still defied the wisdom of matches starting at the same time by beginning theirs in Lumwana an hour earlier and won 2-0 to secure their return to Africa – but this time in the second tier of the continental club competition.
Apart from Zescoâ€™s piled-up fixtures causing tension towards the end, the season was generally good, of course apart from the incident involving Nchanga Rangers in which some of their officials were accused of attempted bribery of a referee.
There were some moral issues surrounding that allegation because Rangers, who are poorly sponsored by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), have no disposable income.
So, where did Rangers find that money, which every coach and player has been yearning for throughout the season, be give to a referee?
I hope, beyond the walls of the FAZ disciplinary committee and the appeals committee, police have taken up the matter to its conclusive end.
As the league closed, it is worth noting that all the defence and security teams have managed to escape demotion.
But this should not bring pride to Zambia Army-sponsored Green Buffaloes, Zambia National Service-bankrolled Green Eagles, Zambia Police birds Nkhwazi and the airmen Red Arrows.
I am aware that the army, airforce, police and ZNS are putting more money in their teams than before.
However, Arrows, Eagles and Nkhwazi struggled in the 2016 season.
These teams are supposed to be challenging for the title and not fighting relegation given the resources Government, through their sponsors, is investing.
With the season behind them, there is need for a thorough post-mortem by the stakeholders of all these teams so that come 2017, the first five slots are occupied by the defence and security teams.
Priority should be given to raising the bar and departing from being mere participants to dominating the league.
It would be plausible if at the end of the 2017 season the defence and security wing sponsored sides finished among the top five teams.
I would urge the defence and security administrations to do more for the teams they are sponsoring and sports in general.
It should not be just about improving allowances but also in rehabilitating facilities such as grounds where these teams practise from and improving the general welfare of the players.
The Army, ZAF, ZNS and, to some, extent Police boast of employing these players.
But there is more to providing employment and taking these players for military training.
Unless such issues are addressed, defence and security teams will continue being braidmaids in top flight football.
For ZNS, they bear a greater responsibility in terms of football because with Mazabukaâ€™s Nakambala Leopards having been relegated, it means Eagles will not only be the only Super Division side in the Southern Province but the pride of the region.
The entire province will therefore look up to Eagles, who will be their only representative in top flight football.
Elsewhere, the basketball and tennis courts in Arackan Barracks could do with a face-lift and, added to that get back to the days when such minor disciplines dominated rankings in the country.
In basketball, unless a miracle happens, ZNS Green Eagles are also threatened with demotion from the A to B league.
Having offered counsel to the army, airforce, ZNS and police my word to the Zambia Correctional Services is to ensure Prison Leopards Football Club returns to the Super Division.
I am urging Zambia Correctional Services commissioner-general Percy Chato and his command to work towards bringing back the Leopards to soccerâ€™s promised land.
Added to the services the prisons provide, ZCS can go into manufacturing sports equipment such as basketball goal systems, football and netball goal posts and much more.
BLACKPOOL SETS SUPER DIVISION RECORD
So, there were records set in the Super Division this year. The worst record was set by Mufulira Blackpool, who despite sacking coach Weston Mumba – did not win a single game in 34 outings and drew only 12 times.
In 1969, Nkwazi won only one match from 26 matches, drew five matches, scored 28 and conceded 70 goals to finish with seven points.
In 1997, City Snipers (formerly National Milling) managed only a win in 30 outings, drawing four times, losing 25 matches, scoring five and conceding 61 goals and had seven points while in 2000, Lusaka Tigers, from 30 games, won one game, drew eight, lost 21, scored 15, conceded 15 and ended the season with 11 points.
Champions Zanaco set an enviable record of not losing at home this year where they conceded only one goal.
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GAME ON! with BENEDICT TEMBO