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SALIMA’S FOOTBALL DREAM COMES TRUE…Football-mad town celebrates construction of stadium after years of playing on bare grounds

By Jack McBrams

Majestic Salima Stadium under construction

In the heart of Salima, where the sweltering lakeshore sun beats down relentlessly, lies a small, dusty patch of earth tucked behind the Salima Community Hall.

Here, a spirited group of teenagers, devoid of any fancy footballing gear save for their cherished ball, engage in a kickabout with infectious enthusiasm. It is as if they are dancing with the very essence of the sport, their carefree laughter and tireless pursuit of the worn-out football giving life to the bare grounds.

Their determination knows no bounds as they chase after the battered ball, as if their very existence hinges on its every move. Each bead of sweat that forms on their brows is a testament to the burning passion that fuels their every step and kick.

With no official stadium in this entire town, this open field, like many others in Salima, has become their hallowed football ground—a sacred place where the beautiful game flourishes with just a ball and an abundance of heart.

Yet, a shimmering promise lies on the horizon, casting its glow over the football-mad town. Salima is on the brink of transformation, for soon, a magnificent football stadium will rise from the dust.

The prospect of this monumental change electrifies the air, stirring excitement among the locals like a long-awaited dream coming to fruition. No longer will they have to make do with makeshift pitches; they will have a grand stage where their passion can reach new heights.

Salima District Council’s director of public works Harris Kumwenda says the 5,000-capacity stadium is 65 percent complete.

Men working ahead

“Currently, we are working the perimeter fence and the pitch,” he says.

According to Kumwenda, the facility, which is being built next to Salima Community Centre, will boast of several stands, including a VIP stand, a netball court.

“In fact, we have invested in an on-field drainage system that will ensure that there is no water-logging on the pitch during the rainy season.”

Joseph Kaunda, district sports officer for Salima, who also coached Salima Secondary School during their bronze-winning journey at the CAF Africa Schools Tournament last year, notes that the new pitch will elevate the standard of the game in Salima.

“Those players who went to South Africa for the tournament, they were using this hard dry pitch. And yet they were able to win bronze. So, imagine if they were playing on a better pitch? the improvement of this pitch will help to promote talent in the district,” he explains.

Vice chairman of the Salima Stadium Project Management Committee Daliso Gome noted that, for many years, the district has been praying for a stadium due to the community’s love for the beautiful game.

“Salima is a soccer loving community that is why we have many football teams here like Mafco, Parachute Battalion, Ngolowingo, Salima United and several other teams but we face challenges when it comes to a proper football pitch,” he says.

He added that the new stadium will enable the council to generate funds from the facility that can be used to fund other projects in the district.

So dire is the football pitch situation that Mafco, the town’s sole representative in the TNM Premier League currently travels 170 kilometres to Dwangwa for its home games.

Work in progress

The team’s captain Paul Ndhlovu notes that the scenario adversely affects the team’s performance.

“The biggest challenge is that it is not our real home so the support is always apart from the team having to deal with the long distance from Salima,” he said.

Ndhlovu notes that the construction of a standard football pitch in Salima will motivate the team.

“It will be an advantage to us as we will be playing before our real supporters and we will be playing to win all games in order to impress the people of Salima,” he says.

Salima Stadium is being financed under the Governance to Enable Service Delivery (GESD) project is a $100 million grant from the World Bank Board of Executive Directors with an objective to “strengthen local authorities’ institutional performance, responsiveness to citizens and management of resources for service delivery.

The five-year project intends to, among others, enhance local authority capacity and finance performance-based grants to 28 district local authorities to deliver priority development projects that enhance service delivery.

Salima District Council received K471 million in the 2022/23 GESD performance-based grants, of which K270 million was invested in construction of the stadium while the council hopes to pump in K375 in the next phase of the stadium.

The future stadium’s construction symbolizes more than just bricks and mortar. It is a testament to the unyielding spirit of the community—a testament to their undying love for the sport that unites them.

As the sun sets on the old, humble grounds and the shadows of the stadium-to-be stretch out, one thing is certain: this transformation will forever mark a defining moment in the town’s history.

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