FRANCISTOWN: After more than half a century of elite league title drought in Francistown, it is rookies, Ecco City Green, who suddenly have northern football lovers on the edge of their seats as the ?Greens? make a surge towards the city?s first ever realistic chance of winning the league since Tasc?s attempt three years ago and Tafic?s second position finish in 1992.
Ecco have been perched at the apex of the league for four months now, and their scintillating performances have seen them scrape disenchanted Tafic and Tasc fans and attract people who have been disinterested in soccer.
The local buffs smack their lips in anticipation of Francistown?s first elite league glory.
In rising to the top and making an astounding presence in a fiercely contested league, where seasoned campaigners have failed before, Ecco have displayed rare discipline, endurance and a rare ability to rely more on teamwork than individual display of talent.
Formed in 1992, the Greens now feel they have the necessary experience to competitively challenge for top honours, although they remain modest about the current spotlight.
?We cannot promise anything. There are still a lot of away league games and as the current log leaders, every team wants to defeat us,? the team?s Public Relations Officer, Nelson Legwatagwata, told FPN.
Legwatagwata says one of the major challenges that local teams face is inconsistency, which disrupts the team?s plans.
?We cannot properly plan ahead because of regular changes to the calendar,? he quips.
Legwatagwata is aware of the thirst northerners have for the league title, and promises, ?We will do whatever we can to bring the title home.?
Some critics say it is only a matter of time before the team wilts under pressure and runs out of steam because it lacks depth compared to seasoned campaigners like BDF XI, who are breathing down Ecco?s neck.
The pundits predict that this year is just a dejavu of the past two seasons in which Ecco started brilliantly only to falter just before hitting the finishing line.
One fan brands Ecco a first-round-team that cannot win the league due to lack of depth.
To support his view, he says the team relies on a few individuals, and when they are off-form its performance slumps.
However, Legwatagwata disputes the observation about lack of depth.
His view is that this Ecco side has matured with every game.
?We have a lot of players who have been playing in the league for three years now. They have played in major cups and I believe they are now mature and can compete on the league stage without any stage fright,? he says.
It is true that the team has displayed a rare pedigree and maturity beyond first timers in local topflight football, something that Legwatagwata attributes to the players? ability to complement each other, as opposed to relying on individual brilliance.
?We are the log leaders but we have few players who command first places in the national squad,? he underscores the importance of team effort in Ecco?s psyche.
While the focus is on the upstarts, Francistown?s oldest team in the league Tafic are on the eighth spot with a conservative aspiration of finishing among the top four. Formed in 1959, Tafic have a history of financial worries and are currently without a sponsor.
? Lack of money means we cannot keep quality players for long as they are attracted to financially well off clubs,? Tafic?s Public Relations Officer, Jones Mosweu, told FPN.
The best league position that Tafic ever achieved was as runners-up to Extension Gunners in 1992. Even with the huge following, Tafic have not been able to use the critical mass of supporters to attract a good sponsor. Mosweu says this is because their followers are poor and mostly unemployed.
Others explain it differently ? though. They put everything down to the managerial problems that have plagued the team for most of its existence.
Next-door neighbours, Tasc, are not doing any better. They are deep in the relegation zone, sitting at an uncomfortable fifteenth spot in the log.
Clearly, the only thing in their mind is survival in the elite league. Tasc?s problems seem to have worsened when they decided to part ways with long time coach Seth Moleofi, just when the second round?s battle for survival was hotting up.
Former Tafic manager Nobert Madatha says he cannot explain why northern teams are bad performers in the premier league.
?Year after year, we have a team from the north battling the relegation axe. Sometimes two sides from the north relegate at the same time, which is rare with teams from the south,? he says
Madatha says for some reason, players are more motivated when they play for teams in the south than they do when in the colours of a team from north of Dibete.
The former Tafic administrator says the non-performance of Francistown teams cannot be blamed on infrastructure or lack sponsorship, saying there are teams from the south that have won the league title without sponsorship.
The low representation of the northern teams? players in the national squad and the more than half a century drought of league honours have caught the attention of Francistown?s District Commissioner.
Through sponsorship from the World Group of Companies, Sylvia Muzila has given out soccer boots to all social and registered clubs in the north as a way of motivating them to do better.
?We want to increase the number of players from northern teams in the national squad,? Muzila said when she unveiled the sponsorship late last year.
Until that happens, Francistowners? hopes are pinned on the Botswana Meat Commission-backed side.(FPN)