"When we get on that aircraft, in many senses I will feel like my time with Matabeleland has been a success". Justin Walley tells us how the team is getting ready for the CONIFA World Football Cup.

This time we catch up with Justin Walley, Matabeleland's coach, and talk about his involvement with the team, their objectives for the upcoming Paddy Power CONIFA World Football Cup and inspiring others. Enjoy!

You are the head coach of the Matabeleland football team, a region of Zimbabwe. What can you tell us about the history of the area and how the team was created to represent it?

Justin: Matabeleland is a region of Zimbabwe divided into three provinces: Matabeleland North, Bulawayo and Matabeleland South. These provinces are in the west and south-west of Zimbabwe, between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers. Matabeleland was traditionally a Kingdom ruled until 1893 by the Khumalo Clan.

The capital of Matabeleland is Bulawayo (where the team is based), Zimbabwe’s second largest city. People call it the City of Kings and Queens. The region is named after its inhabitants, the Ndebele people. Other ethnic groups who inhabit parts of Matabeleland include the Tonga, Kalanga, Venda, Chewa, Khoi Sani, Nambia, Shangaan, Swati, Sotho, Shona, Tswana, Xhosa and Zulu. There are also migrants from Malawi and Zambia as well as other racial groups like Indians, Whites and people of mixed race. In recent years, people from parts of Asia, such as China have joined the citizenry of this region.

The Matabeleland Team is the football team representing the Matabeleland peoples and regions of South West (modern) Zimbabwe. The Team encompasses all the cultural groups indigenous and evolutionary migrants found in Matabeleland collectively using the umbrella identity of AmaNdebele or Matabele. Team selection reflects that diverse cultural Identity. The Team is run by the Matabeleland Football Confederacy and its objectives are development through football for human rights...and community development.

onoTufc1.jpg

We also want to help develop careers on and off the football pitch. International Representation can only benefit all involved. The Team uses football as a positive way of peace building, creating hope and fostering development.

How did you become the coach? You don't seem to have any link with Zimbabwe?

Like most young boys, I always dreamed of playing international football. Once I realised that playing for England was an absurdly unrealistic dream, I dreamt of playing for some relatively unknown nation, perhaps in the Pacific, where I might somehow become naturalised and be allowed to play in regional world cup qualifiers. I did think quite seriously about trying to achieve this but in the end it just involved too much expense and other things got in the way. That playing dream then turned into a coaching dream. Perhaps one day I might coach a men or women's national team in somewhere like the Caribbean?

Fast forward to 2011 and I became involved in full time coaching for the team I helped create a few years earlier – Riga United FC. A handful of us took the club from a friends' 5-a-side kickabout to an 11-a-side team playing foreign touring teams to a national league side over the course of a decade. Then we created a kids academy and a successful women's team. I was assistant coach of the men for two seasons in Latvian League 2 and Head Coach of the ladies in the women's Premier League. I also worked as Club Secretary for two seasons doing everything from the accounts to social media.

By the end of the 2016 season I felt exhausted and, needing a break, went backpacking around the Indian Ocean with my girlfriend Katya. I toyed with the idea of actually giving up coaching (I applied for jobs working in Elephant conservation/protection in Sri Lanka for example) ...but after a few months off I concluded that I had a lot to offer working in football development; at which stage I joined both CONIFA and Tackle Africa in the space of a couple of weeks. I also returned to coaching with a Latvian League 2 team called FK Aliance. FK Aliance was a really positive experience and it made me want to look at coaching at a higher level but in the developing world.

After months of talks and negotiation, I was offered and accepted the National Team Head Coach role for a Pacific island nation before the job fell through at the very last moment a couple of weeks before I was due to fly out there. I was devastated but a few days later, through my CONIFA connections, I got to hear that Matabeleland were looking for help with their project and I just decided to put my name in the hat. I was very impressed with their vision for the World Football Cup and development plans beyond that, while they seemed to like what I had to say. My background in running a football club with very limited resources was also a plus, as well as the fact that I had worked in football in Africa before with the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone.

4Qxn0ftm.jpg

You qualified to the CONIFA World Football Cup. What an adventure. How are you getting ready for the event in London?

Yes, the team qualified as one of the two spots for African teams in qualification. This included the team's first ever international fixture, when Matabeleland travelled on chicken buses for 20 hours to Barotseland, Zambia. The lads had to play shortly after arriving but still won the game comfortably.

We are treating the CONIFA World Football Cup as if it is the FIFA World Cup. We are the only team from southern Africa playing at either tournament and we know the eyes of southern Africa will be upon us. We want to be the very best version of ourselves. I will be very surprised if any other team has prepared as hard as we have. It has been months and months of hardcore preparation with the lads training several times per week and playing at least four matches per month. The Matabeleland Team is run like a semi-professional club team in Europe (but mostly without the resources). We are a collective unit that wants to achieve for the country, the region, the city of Bulawayo, our team mates, our families and for ourselves. Competition for places is now tough and those players that have shown us to be unreliable in any way or lacking the heart, have dropped out of the running for London.

Sadly, we need to spend a huge amount of time working on fundraising for London. We need $20,000 plus to get the squad and coaches flights and visas. It is a huge amount of money in this part of the world without sponsors. I myself have spent 10 or 12 hours on this on many days for four or five months and have probably personally brought in $6000 in funding and donations as well as kits, equipment and professional voluntary staff. There is very little money in Zimbabwe so we are focussing our main efforts on the UK and South Africa as well as the international community at large. Two Swiss friends, Domi and Pascal, just donated $500 to sponsor me for example. A good mate of mine called Graham who is from home but lives in Latvia is financing the tracksuits out of his own pocket. Another friend Phil, is organising a concert at my home parish in Leicestershire to raise funds. My former club Riga United have given us 300 euro and a match ball. I reckon my former players have donated close on $500 between them also. We have even received donations from as far away as Argentina.

Aside from the fundraising, I am also working on all the two and three per cents. Nutrition, game preparation, analysing our opponents, getting supporters in to the stadiums to be our twelfth man, pre-tournament training camp etc. etc.

What are your objectives for the tournament? How do you see the competition? You've been handed a tough group it seems.

First and foremost getting all the boys to London. We have spent months working on visas, flights, media, fundraising, bringing in equipment and staff. The list is never ending. So our biggest objective is getting there. When we get on that aircraft to London, in many senses I will feel like my time with Matabeleland has been a success.

Once we are there, our next objective is to earn the respect of the fans, our opponents, media, sponsors etc. for how we conduct ourselves both on and off the pitch. Aside from those who support us, I want us to be everyone else's second team at the tournament; the team that everyone has a soft spot for.

Next I want us to score our first goal in WFC history, to keep our first clean sheet, to win our first match. Our group is extremely tough. With Tuvalu replacing Kiribati (whom I suspect would have been quite weak), I think there will actually be four decent teams in our group all capable of taking points off each other. I am not saying it because you expect to hear it off a coach but my overall target is for us to win the tournament. I think any team that gets out of our group will have a genuine chance of being world champions. Football is a microcosm of life. Good luck and bad luck – fortune if you like – also play a massive part. If we get the money for London. If all the players get visas. If our best players remain fit and free of injury. If our best players don't get snapped up by professional Zimbabwean teams before we leave (we know that at least six of them have clubs currently interested). If the squad is on form. If the opposition isn't firing at 100%. If decisions go our way. If all the ifs fall into place, then there is absolutely no reason why we cannot be crowned champions. I believe our squad as it is now, is good enough. If.

Your program also involves development through football, for the local community in Matabeleland. What can you tell us about that?

The development side of the project was a big reason why I decided to go to Zimbabwe. Through the MFC, we are helping some of the players into full-time education and employment. We want to empower the lads we currently have. And we also want to create youth teams and rural leagues that can play under the MFC umbrella, helping to develop those communities. A girls team has been created and we very much hope a Matabeleland Women's Team will play at a future CONIFA Women's World Football Cup.

Locally, we also want to improve the environment through spearheading projects that, for example, help clean up the city of Bulawayo. Ultimately, we also believe that our project might feed in to the current desire for reconciliation inside Zimbabwean society. And for Zimbabwean football we also believe that the creation of regional teams such as ours can unearth great talents in rural grassroots football. From this the national game as a whole can benefit. The sky is the limit. I believe that a successful tournament will create awareness, trust and support for what we are doing and in the future this project will gain the support of NGOs, sports bodies and indeed Zimbabwean football.

How do you plan to develop in the future, after the tournament? What's the next natural step for you and your team?

I envision other regions creating teams. This could be very positive for grassroots football and the national game. Matabeleland will compete in the CONIFA African Cup in 2019 and hopefully also qualify for the next WFC in 2020. We hope our best players will make the step up to the Premier League and some will even get scouted and go abroad. Perhaps one or two of our players might eventually end up playing for the Zimbabwe national team one day. We would like to have our own training ground/stadium, develop our coaches, and support the local community through projects. I believe teams will travel from abroad to play us. I had a dream one night that Yorkshire came here and played us at the Barbourfields Stadium in front of 20,000!

BKNM72C-.jpg

If someone wants to help the team, how can they do this?

We have three crowdfunding pages set up. One, I created, where as well as making straight donations, you can also purchase our replica shirt, scarf, sponsor a player's visa etc. www.generosity.com/sports-fundraising/send-matabeleland-to-the-conifa-worldcup

Then we have our original crowdfund page, which is ideal for anybody who wants to donate using Pay Pal: https://gogetfunding.com/matabeleland-to-world-football-cup-london-2018/

And a third page is for three British Zimbabwean guys who are running 10 kilometres to raise money for the team. This page is straight donations and also accepts donations in Pounds Sterling https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/nqobile-nkomo

Aside from this, the public can also help us by coming to our six matches in London at the CONIFA World Football Cup, and supporting the boys. Adult tickets are just 10 pounds and can be purchased through Eventim here: https://bit.ly/2GUGpM0 

You can also follow us on Twitter @JustinWalley10@MatabelFootball  and help spread the word by commenting and retweeting. We are also looking for a voluntary kit man for the period May 31 – June 9.

If anyone would like to donate shin pads, kits, old football boots or footballs, then please contact me on justinwalley@yahoo.com and we would be very grateful for anything you can give us. With the project continuing to develop in the future, anybody who is potentially interested in volunteering as a coach for our kids, girls and senior team, might also consider emailing me to discuss them getting involved.

 

Please like the Million Seater Stadium on Facebook and follow on Twitter below: