JBFC Football DiariesMay 5, 2014 5:31 pm
It starts with a huddled prayer, a JBFC-FC (JBFC football club) chant, and it ends with Liku running off the field wearing tears of joy. The benefits of sports are well known- make new friends, build confidence, learn sportsmanship, improve teamwork skills, and mold charismatic leaders. They celebrate triumphant moments accompanied by tears of happiness and learn to get past painful moments of loss.
Tanzania lacks the formal sports infrastructure that we enjoy in America. Most schools don’t have organized sports- and when they do, they often lack committed players, an enthusiastic coach, proper equipment, and other teams to regularly compete against.
It came as a shocker in early April when we received a letter inviting us to compete against some of the most well-organized, top-ranked girls’ soccer teams in our district, Magu. The catch, however, was that since school teams are so poorly organized, our competition would be three teams, similar to private all-star teams. They are comprised of players from multiple schools with no age limit and no requirement that the players be students, at all. On our team, all of the girls are in school with the oldest being 17 and the youngest in their early teens. We expected to be going toe to toe with bigger, stronger, faster, older, and more experienced athletes.
We- and by we I mostly mean the JBFC girls- have worked hard over the past six months to re-vamp our soccer club and apparently give our school and team a reputation. Since January, we have gone undefeated winning four straight games and giving up no goals in the process. Our last game- the match that would eventually give us the opportunity to compete against the elite private clubs in the district- we won 4-0 with Liku scoring two goals and Neema R and Julie each adding one.
The girls, led by an inspiring and committed young leader in Neema R (and for those of you who don’t know Neema well, don’t let her shy smile and quickness to run and hide around a corner diminish her natural leadership skills), added 6AM runs to stay in shape. They added practices Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and some Sundays. They asked their new Swahili teacher, Gerald Steven, to coach them. They eat healthier. Do push ups. Sleep more. They made a pact with me promising that school would always come first. They even learned a new warm up dance (which, I promise, is very intimidating and led by little Salome).
On Tuesday, April 29th, the girls walked onto a soccer pitch in front of over 400 people to play in their semi-final game against one of these private all-star clubs, Unyamwezini. The intimidation was palpable- not only were the girls bigger and stronger, they looked mean. Our biggest and fastest players- Liku, Julie, Neema, and Tabu- would have been average on Unyamwezini.
Our girls would have been forgiven had they played scared. They would have been understood had they given up and lost. But they didn’t give up. They weren’t scared. They came out fighting from the first whistle and in the process inspired not only our fans, but also the other team’s fans and the multitude of government officials watching. One of our smaller defenders, Nyamalwa, earned herself the nickname “Afande” (policeman in Swahili) by matching up against the biggest player on the pitch and not letting go until the final whistle. We would go on to win this match 4-3 on penalty shots. But that was just the first hurdle.
On Thursday, May 1st, in front of a crowd of over 1,000 people including the highest-ranking government officials in the district, the JBFC-FC girls took to the field against National Sports Club- the defending champions and home-town favorites. Like Unyamwezini, National Sports Club has no age limit and is made up of girls older, bigger, stronger, and faster than the JBFC girls. One of their star players, in addition to playing for National, also plays for the Tanzanian regional all-star team.
After an inspiring speech from JBFC’s Campus Manager, Mzee Kitula, the girls walked on to the field for their shot at the trophy. In front of an un-friendly crowd, with music blaring and motorcycles circling the soccer pitch, the JBFC girls fought the National girls to the whistle.
For the second time in three days, the JBFC girls wound up shooting penalty shots to determine the game. And, for the second time in three days, the JBFC girls won on penalty shots- this time 5-4.
With tears in their eyes, Liku and Neema ran off the field- and, embracing a lesson that we have been teaching them about sportsmanship, ran over to thank and congratulate their opponents.
This was a special day for multiple reasons, including winning the “cup.”
After the game, looking like seasoned professionals, Neema and Liku conducted two television interviews and a newspaper interview. The team was congratulated by hundreds of people and personally handed a trophy by the District Commissioner. The district Social Welfare Officer treated them to soda and ice cream.
Upon receiving the grand price of 150,000 Tanzanian Shillings (Roughly $100 in the U.S.), I asked Captain Neema what she and the girls would like to do with their prize money. In the true spirit of JBFC, she answered “something nice for all of the JBFC girls, if there is enough money.”
To a district, the JBFC girls were heroes for a day. To us, they are heroes for a lifetime.
Blogger and Football (Soccer) Fan, Seth Diemond, is JBFC’s Campus Manager.
This post was written by Mainsprings