2018 TNM SUPER LEAGUE UPDATE
By Gibson C Kamanga.
It was nine years ago when largely barefooted young football enthusiasts were showcasing their footballing skills at the dusty pitch of Chankhanga Primary school in Kasungu. Theirs was not a soccer ball per se, but a figure that resembled a football. Simply put, the figure was in a pathetic state.
The passion was there. Football was their everyday interest. However, financially, they were incapacitated. They could not afford purchasing a reasonable but durable soccer ball. They were destitute.
Such was an everyday view one patriotic learned Malawian, Thom Nyirenda used to come across every day of his the-then holiday period at Kasungu; it was a touching situation.
Upon noting that Thom was pitying the young lads’ situation, the latter approached the former; their plea was so simple, so recalls Thomas.
“Their request was simple. They had a team but didn’t have soccer balls. All they wanted was an understanding sponsor who would buy them a ball. The role of District Sports Organizer was long abolished by this time. I was touched and vowed to buy them balls and employ a coach for them.” he reminisces.
Thom’s kind gesture marked the genesis of one of the new entrants into this season’s TNM Super league side, TN Stars Football Club.
United we stand so goes the adage. Thom and colleagues also bare this testimony. Having impressed with each other’s inputs, both him, and the-then officials of the team reached a consensus; they drew a blue print. It was that blue print that, with less than ten years since its inception, TN Stars FC has found itself in the country’s elite soccer league.
According to Nyirenda, their plan for a super league showpiece was not out of a fluke. It was out of a well calculated move.
“I told the young players and the coaches that we would need 10 years to get into the super league and there was no short cut. It took us 9 years. We had to put in place what was necessary, which meant experimenting on certain things but also doing things differently not just copy and paste what others are doing.” He explained.
True to Thom’ testimony, TN Stars FC underwent various soccer therapies enroute to its goal of dining with the country’s elite in the super league.
Unlike other soccer teams locally, the club established an academy that participated in local tournaments like Ken Kandodo Banda (MP) tournaments and later joined FMB under 17 league.
In 2015/16, the team merged the academy players with the-then Kasungu Medicals Football team, a club in the-then Chipiku League, but lacked sponsorship.
In 2017/18, the merged team triumphed in the Chipiku Central region football league. The rest, as they say, is history.
Such has been the genesis of TN Stars Football Club. In just nine years, the team, under the steership of one Thom Nyirenda (PhD), is to taste the country’s elite football.
So, who is this Doctor Thom Nyirenda?
Born 53 years ago, Thom Nyirenda holds an MBSS, and a Master of Science in Public Health. He has worked in various institutions both in government, and non-governmental departments, in the likes of Mangochi District Hospital as the District Health Officer between 1995-1997, National TB Research Officer (Ministry of Health), the World Health Organization, and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) whose African office is in Cape Town.
The genesis of soccer passion
Thom has always been sportive. Those who have known him since time immemorial would testify that even the-then young Thomas had a strong appetite for soccer, and sports in general.
Soccer was young Thom’s everyday menu. Back in the days, his pastime extra-curricular activity was perambulating within Kasungu Community Centre ground, perfecting his soccer skills.
It was easier that time as back then almost every district council had a (District) Sports Organizer who manned sports equipment including sports balls for youths to use.
When Thom started pursuing his secondary education at Saint John Bosco at Champhira (Mzimba), his passion for the game grew. In the same way as his classroom exploits; he was not relenting in both endeavors.
It was such a passion that the energetic Thom could be featured in both the main team, as well as the reserve side of his secondary school soccer side.
That was not all. During his medical studies abroad, he was the only foreign student to be sponsored by his University in Scotland to go for a Grade C Soccer Coaching course offered by the Scottish Football Association.
And when he came back to his homeland, at University of Malawi’s College of Medicine in 1992, Thomas’ exploits on the pitch continued plummeting. He was appointed as the captain for his college football team.
Life after academic world had been no different as when Doctor Nyirenda went to Mangochi as District Health Officer, he carried with him, his footballing passion. Having settled in the lakeshore district, in no time, he started sponsoring Mangochi Medicals Football Club.
Truth be told, the medical profession, a Medical Doctor in particular, is one of the busiest professions in town. That, however could not stop Doctor Nyirenda from developing grassroots soccer wherever he went as football has always been in his veins.
“I have always wanted to be involved in development of soccer players despite my busy work schedules as a medical doctor.” He testifies.
The modern day Thom Nyirenda
Currently, Doctor Nyirenda is based in Cape Town, Republic of South Africa. Although he is always having very tight schedules, his footballing molecules he had inhaled overtime are still calling the shots.
Nyirenda is still rising along the echelons of sports, soccer in particular. For example, recently, he got a Certificate in Community Soccer Organization; a South African Football Association’s affiliated course.
Socially, he is also a very visible figure. At 53, he actively partakes in social football down Cape Town. He regularly features for Cape Flames Social Football Club (social club of former football stars from Malawi living in Cape Town, Republic of South Africa), to which he is also the club chairperson.
The conviction of a TNM Super league entrance
Being a man of science, Doctor Nyirenda does not rush into making decisions without evidence. So, when TN Stars FC was formed back then, he went into a soul searching excursion aiming at fine-tuning his team to be a force to reckon with.
“I started forming alliances in other countries like South Africa where our young players went for exchange programme, for example. We collected measurements on players over some years. So we had a long term vision from which we never backed off no matter what happened.” He revealed.
Above all, the recruitment process also greatly shaped TN Stars FC to go into greater heights. For example, the team roped in experienced soccer mentor, and former Flames pillar, Meke Mwase.
The fact-finding mission also revealed that the greatest secret for a successful soccer club locally was to improve player welfare. As Doctor Nyirenda observes, most Malawian soccer teams ill-treat their players, their major assets.
“Our (Malawian) footballers are treated like tenants on a tobacco farm. Just to enrich others, so they say. Football officials, and clubs’ supporters take a center stage and major portion of resources.” He observes.
It is such a difference that sets TN Stars FC worlds’ apart from other soccer teams locally.
So, when TN Stars FC let 2016/17 Chipiku Central region football league’s championship slip by their fingers, Doctor Nyirenda knew that TNM Super league doors were seducing his team; it was just a matter of time.
“We made a lot mistakes on the way which taught us how we can (could) fix things. In 2016/17 season, we were top of Chipiku Central region football League at half season but later slipped. At that moment, I knew we were close to success. So we had a long term vision from which we never backed off no matter what happened.” He recalls.
So come 2017 Chipiku league season, TN Stars had revised their formula. They had a strategy. Conquering the league’s championship was part of their agenda. So, as the lower league reached its twilight, the writing was on the wall. The record was set. TN Stars Fc became the first team from Kasungu to taste the country’s elite soccer league.
Doctor Thom Nyirenda has always been visionary. According to one of his longtime allies, Thoko Kuwali, the former has always been far-sighted.
“Doctor (Thom) has always been visionary…not only in football but in his day-to-day doings. Having known his vision for TN Stars for ages, I’m very confident the team is going to go far,” cherished he.
And in his words, Nyirenda dreams of having a team that is going to be a breeding ground for future stars. To him, TN Stars is not just going to be a participant in the league; it will be one of the citizens of the elite league. here is how;
“My dream about TN Stars is to make it a breeding ground for better soccer careers for the youth with talent and the discipline to excel. This is why doing things differently is important for me.” He challenges.
Nyirenda is of the view that time is now ripe for commercial entities to try investing in such youthful teams as TN Stars.
“I would encourage big sponsors to experiment spending their investments on teams like ours with a vision to take the game to another level instead of just sponsoring big historical teams. It’s like fertilizing maize that has already shown tassels. As a learner in the field, I will be happy to be proven wrong,” challenged he.
It is such optimism that Doctor Thom Nyirenda is convinced that despite the past trend of Malawian soccer clubs like TN Stars, that are under sole proprietorship, and also rookies, to easily vanish once they kiss TNM Super league goodbye, his team will be permanent residents in the top flag ship.
“At TN Stars FC, we don’t have the luxury of company sponsorship money that flows with a purpose of promoting a company product and not promoting Malawian soccer players. If we can succeed to attract good young players with vision of where they want to go with their soccer career and not rush for quick bucks, we’ll hold on to super league for many more seasons,” he predicts.
Dream of running Malawian soccer at a higher level?
Doctor Nyirenda is undecided.
“Everything has its right time. I wouldn’t get involved in anything to which I will not add value. If at some point it is certain beyond reasonable doubt that my services are needed for national duties, I will consider the options.” He says.
- Our footballers are treated like tenants on a tobacco farm. Just to enrich others, so they say. Football officials and supporters’ clubs take a centre stage and major portion of resources. – Doctor Thom Nyirenda
Brief Accolades: Doctor Thom Nyirenda (Academics aside)
- Chairperson: Cape Flames Social Football Club (social club of former football stars from Malawi living in Cape Town)
- Chairperson: Malawian Association of Cape Town
- Certificate in Community Soccer Organization (a South African Football Association affiliated course)