Season nine of the Mascom Top 8 culminated with a football feast at a simmering Obed Itani Chilume Stadium last Saturday. The tournament has slowly moved ahead as the Botswana Premier League’s flagship competition, offering local football its dose of a seasonal delicacy. But while all eyes were on the ball, the playing surface at the Obed Itani Chilume Stadium was the unheralded stand out performer, writes MQONDISI DUBE
The National Stadium playing surface has come under constant criticism from visiting teams, at one stage described as a ‘kraal’ in the build-up to an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier between the Zebras and Algeria.
Tunisia’s Esperance was also critical of the state of the pitch when they visited Township Rollers for a CAF Champions League tie in 2018.
The pitch has received constant pounding as it hosts a myriad of events, from sports, to music festivals, with the biggest thud coming from the annual Botswana Defence Force Day.
Lobatse Sports Complex, the country’s third CAF approved facility, does not have the best playing surface either, with grass patches a constant thorn in the stadium management’s flesh.
Amid all the pitches gloom, the Obed Itani Chilume Stadium reserved its best shape for last Saturday’s Mascom Top 8 final featuring Orapa United and Township Rollers.
The playing surface at the majestic 26,000-seater facility rose to the occasion in immaculate fashion, emerging in its ‘Sunday best’ for the Saturday showdown.
It dovetailed with the Mascom Top 8’s festival atmosphere and the pitch presented the greener pastures the two teams yearned for.
The table for a football feast had been laid, as with each ticking minute towards kick-off, the fans’ rapacious appetite grew. The match drew a big crowd, with 17,899 fans going through the turnstiles.
The atmosphere was carnival, but the only blot was the slow tempo of a match failed to rise in dipping Francistown temperatures. The match began at a blistering pace, with Rollers asking the uncomfortable questions earlier. But it was the Orange nation who took the lead against the run of play, with Mbatshi Elias showing composure before Rollers’ Tumisang Orebonye evened
After that the match degenerated into a drab affair, despite the fans’ bellowing raucously in a bid to inject the much-needed life to the game.
Rollers’ Frank Nuttall and his Orapa counterpart, Mogomotsi ‘Teenage’ Mpote adopted caution, clearly trying to avoid conceding, which meant the tie was tactical, removing the match’s aesthetics the fans had come to expect.
The previous finals, played in less convincing surfaces, have been a thrill-a-minute.
It was not the perfect script the thousands of supporters had expected the two teams to craft, as it was at odds with the stadium atmosphere and the pitch layout. A square peg for a round hole on the day!
Stadium custodians, the Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) said the immaculate state of the pitch was down to little activity, compared to its other towering counterparts, the National Stadium and Lobatse Sports Complex.
“The stadium is not used heavily like other stadia, it is top dressed and spiked every three months or whenever the need arises. The same is done with other facilities, however, usage is what makes the difference,” BNSC chief executive officer, Falcon Sedimo explained.
He said the lawn planted at the stadium, was available locally, although the initial plant was sourced in South Africa.
The grass has been part of the stadium since it was constructed five years ago. Sedimo said plans are in progress to revamp playing surfaces in Gaborone and Lobatse.
“Plans are afoot to scarify the two stadia. This is a costly undertaking, which needs to be budgeted for in the future. The grass at the National Stadium is reaching its useful life and would need replacement in the future,” he said.