Felix Masunda, The Unsung Hero Of Zimbabwean Football That's Keeping Children Off The Streets
Since the start of the academy, Masunda, 70, has never earned enough to make a living out of his academy. At best he’s received small donations that trickle in from random well-wishers - but he keeps going because of the love he has for the kids in his community.
For Felix Masunda, football has been a lifeline. In the late 1970s, his late father owned a football academy in Mbare, in the south of Harare, Zimbabwe, that supported young players by building them up for manhood.
It was an academy where players like Masunda could grow into the men they wanted to be by utilising the lessons they learned on the pitch and applying them to the real world.
But Masunda’s own promising career ended prematurely in 1984, after he suffered a permanent knee injury while playing for the defunct Black Aces FC.
After his early retirement, he vowed to remain in the field and launched Far Post Football Academy with his family in Chitungwiza.
For the past three decades, he’s woken up early to dutifully walk with the aid of a crutch towards the Zengeza 3 community soccer pitch to meet hordes of young football apprentices.
Before the drills kick-off, the local boys sit together enthusiastically pumping handmade plastic balls. But when Masunda arrives, the team, aged between nine to 17 surround him, eagerly waiting for the training session to begin.
Masunda always brings with him a real ball.
Besides his role as a coach - he is almost seen as some sort of father figure. Luckily, at the club, which he formed with his son and nephew, talent is not a prerequisite, any young player is welcome to mingle and play a game or two.
With drug abuse and crime rates on the rise, Far Post Football Academy has become a sanctuary to shield youngsters from becoming victims of the streets. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the academy increased the frequency of training sessions to keep their players occupied.
“Drugs and crime are affecting many of our young players from a very tender age before they become professionals,” said Masunda.
“At the academy, we want to take youths away from drugs and crime, to in still discipline, respect the elderly and create employment for them as professional players with the training they get from our committed, experienced coaches, who train them for free of charge," he added.
“We identify bigger clubs for our most talented players and send them for trials. We do it for charity; we don’t demand anything from them. Our players in bigger clubs always come back to train and inspire other young players,” said Lazarus Kanyangarara, a coach at the academy.
Since the inception of the academy, Masunda has never earned a salary, except small donations that trickle in from random well-wishers.
Most of the time - he uses his money to keep the academy going.
Despite the financial constraints, the football academy has registered some positives, producing prominent players like Liberty Masunda who later played in Turkey and Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa, and Patrick Daka, a former Hessen Kassel F.C striker.
From his undisputed soccer journey, Masunda believes that identifying talent early will improve the country’s waning football fortunes.
But, he claims, the majority of soccer clubs lack a clear junior soccer development policy. This inevitably leaves him and other academy coaches with the burden to identify and mould raw talent on their own without support or backing from government officials.
“Today players are lacking proper training time with their coaches to learn more and gel with other players. Our preparation for the national soccer team is very poor; we need to improve," he said.
After years of working solo, enduring constant frustrations, Masunda believes the future of football lies in grassroots soccer development.
“Our junior policy in the country is nonexistent and is now concentrated in well-financed clubs and a few academies. Big teams are mainly concentrating on senior teams and buying players and neglecting junior players.
“Lack of resources is impeding our soccer development. Parents in our communities lack the resources to support their talented children.
We need to get football gear to inspire our children, like jerseys and nets. If we don't do that, we will continue losing a lot of players to drug abuse and crime because they have nothing to occupy them.”
At 70, Masunda is not getting any younger. But before he hangs his boots, for good, he wishes to leave an inheritance and so he continues to wake up and coach his kids.