Swallows plot survival

Swallows plot survival

MASERU-Formed in 1931, Swallows Football Club has been an ever-present fixture in Lesotho football as the flag-bearer for the small village of Mazenod on the outskirts of Maseru.

Throughout their history the club have revelled in punching above their weight and they have produced renowned stars such as Teele Ntšonyana, Joele Letsoela and Thabo Khoboli, just to name a few.
Swallows have also enjoyed success on the field with their high point coming in 2003 when ‘Maswai-swai’ brought Mazenod to a standstill by winning the now-defunct Buddie Challenge.

It was a miraculous achievement as unheralded Swallows won Lesotho’s biggest cup competition at the time.
In the semi-finals Swallows overcame Matlama, who went on to win the league that year, and then in the final ‘Maswai-swai’ outlasted Lesotho Defence Force, who won the league the following year, with Sam Mohasoa scoring the winner for the Mazenod underdogs.

However, despite their admirable successes and always being a team that promotes Mazenod, Swallows have never enjoyed any real support from the Mazenod business community.

Twenty years ago that didn’t matter as much and Swallows were able to spend ten successive years in the top-flight between 2001 and 2011.
However, the football landscape is different now.
Running a club is an expensive undertaking with costs today ranging from player salaries to ground maintenance.

Without money, Swallows are one of the few current top-flight teams that don’t pay their players a salary and after being relegated from the Premier League in 2011, they only returned to the elite division in 2018.

Swallows survived the comeback 2018/19 campaign by two points thanks to a last day miracle and things were again going tough this season.
When the Econet Premier League was suspended on March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Mazenod side were bottom of the Econet Premier League with just six points from 18 games and were nine points from safety.

The club’s problems are rooted on finances.
Last season Swallows received M30 000 from the Premier League’s main sponsors, Econet, as their prize money for finishing 12th but that amount pales in comparison to the club’s expenses.
Unlike most clubs, Swallows are not even able to rely on relief income from gate-takings.

Swallows play their home games in Nyakosoba which is roughly 33 kilometres away from Mazenod because Swallows’ home field doesn’t meet the minimum safety requirements demanded by the Lesotho Football Association for top-flight venues.

Swallows pay Mangau, who own the Nyakosoba ground and campaign in the B-Division, to use the fields.
In addition to that bill, there is a cut from any ticket sales that goes to Econet which means Swallows are basically living off scraps.
“We don’t make enough,” a Swallows executive committee member who wished to remain anonymous told thepost.

“There is e-ticketing and Econet takes their cut, we have a deal with Mangau (and) they must have their cut. Sometimes we make so little that we don’t even have money to give to Mangau,” he added.
For example, for a recent home league fixture against Sefotha-fotha played in February, Swallows made a paltry M400 from gate-takings.

“Remember we play in Nyakosoba and their team (Mangau) play in the B-Division and (the people in Nyakosoba) watch their team for free, so they are not used to paying for matches,” the Swallows executive said.

“When we played Sefotha-fotha we made M400. Every match-day we spend about M1 500 to transport players and other expenses and we play 26 games in a season. The only money we got last year was from Econet,” he added.
From the numbers, it is clear clubs such as Swallows are running on massive losses and they live on a match-to-match basis.
The executive said the little money Swallows collect from home games goes towards expenses for their next match.

“Normally, the money collected from gate-takings this weekend goes to expenses for the following weekend but if we are going to play during the week then we are going to struggle,” he said.

“The fans from Mazenod only travel at the end of the month (when they have money) but even then it’s not a lot of people. Poor performances on the field do not help, they already know (the team is going to struggle),” the executive lamented.

Because Swallows do not pay players that also leaves them vulnerable to bigger clubs continuously poaching their talented players with the promise of a salary.
“Because of no money and sponsorship we are struggling to bring in players of any quality, and that goes for the coaching staff as well because we can’t pay,” the Swallows committee member said.

“The players we have are easily taken away, (other teams) promise to pay them, and when you compare M500 to nothing you will take M500,” he said.
The Swallows executive said the result is that Swallows are always rebuilding their playing squad and it is one of the reasons they have struggled since their promotion to the Econet Premier League in 2018.
“The commitment of our players is also not the same as compared to other clubs where players get paid, regardless of how little it may be that they get,” the committee member said.

The one thing right now that Swallows have in common with other clubs in the Econet Premier League is they are living in uncertainty with football postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, for a club struggling to stay afloat, somehow the halt in league play has its positives.

Swallows say that in some ways they have welcomed the break with both hands. Not only is it a temporary financial relief, but this pause is a chance for players to regroup and focus.
“Every coin has two sides, so even this has its own advantages and disadvantages,” the Swallows executive member said.

“The disadvantages are that there is no money coming in from match-days, but even that is too little. But there are advantages: we are not playing so we are not spending money, we pay to bring players to training and we pay to transport players,” he added.

The break is also an opportunity to plot a way to survive relegation from the Econet Premier League if and when the season resumes.
And the executive remained confident Swallows would find a way to remain in the top-flight.

“I think the league was postponed at a time when we felt we were on the right track and felt we could win games,” he insisted.

Tlalane Phahla

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