THE setting is Acid grocery and liquor shops in Mutare’s suburb of Zimta Park.
The timing is a sunny Sunday afternoon and a cool easterly breeze is wafting past a single line of shops erected in front of dusty front yards across the place.
And of all the different buildings in that single line of outlets, none has more people inside that the packed Acid Bottle Store where a tightly contested Mutare Pool League (MPL) match pitting log leaders, Rozvi and the hosts is being played.
A disciplined lot of young and middle aged men are seriously concentrating on the doubles and singles pool matches as players from both sides take turns on the table to outplay each other in this precision contest.
After watching the breathtaking ball cutting skills, skilful ball dubbing shots, the artistic snooker shot, popularly known as ‘tsono’ – all a measure of one’s precision with the stick – one would be forgiven to think that this game can be a source of an Olympic gold medal for the country, only if it gets the respects it now deserves.
Naturally, some intervals of ululation, joy and jubilation punctuate the end of every match in a series of matches that sum up the number of doubles and singles matches usually played in a single league outing.
This is not peculiar to Acid grocery and liquor shops where already two MPL teams are based!
Every Saturday and Sunday, this has become the norm at virtually all shopping areas in Dangamvura, Sakubva, Chikanga, Hob House, Natview Park, Nyakamete Industrial Park, Darlington and Florida.
This is the sudden development in the game of pool, also widely referred to as snooker, which is fast morphing from the so-called minority sports such as squash, sailing, canoe and kayak, diving, cycling, hockey and chess among many others.
Minority sports consist of games that generally have low following and attention from members of the public compared to major sporting genres that enjoy wide popularity such as football and cricket.
But for pool, things are not the same anymore! Ironically, the changing sport followership landscape has seen dwindling numbers of fans in Premier Soccer League match venues, while customers have a torrid time to reach the counter in a closed door pool match venue when a league match is underway.
The game of pool in recent years has been earning more attention and following than most local sporting activities in the country, domestic football included.
In fact, many bars, residential places, working places and even some bus stops now have pool tables, a clear sign of the love, passion and growth of the sport.
MPL chairman, Peter Mkwananzi said: “It is true that many bar owners who happen to be our primary sponsors have shown that by increasing their pool tables in their venues. The number of players and fans following our league speaks for itself. Pool is now the in thing.”
The MPL boss admitted that the growth of the game in Mutare has had an infectious effect.
“The growth is evidenced by an increase in pool tables even in rural areas. Because of the structured pool MPL has brought to Mutare, it has motivated other towns and villages in Manicaland to form their structures.
“MPL is helping them to have organised structures. I am confident that we will have proper structures in all the districts in the province,” he said.
Mkwananzi said plans are afoot to have more categories to cater for players of different prowess and age groups.
He noted the need to penetrate into formal school competitions.
“Next year we will have different categories such as professionals, seniors and masters’ leagues. As it stands now, tertiary education has already adopted pool as one of their games during the annual Zimbabwe Tertiary Institutions Sports Union (ZITISU) games.
“Gradually, we are descending to secondary schools, then to primary schools. Our thrust as MPL is to have more neutral venues to accommodate Under-18s,” he said.
Mkwananzi lamented on the lack of corporate partnership.
“Basically, we are trying, but as you know economically we are down, there are no sponsors even Government support for pool, but we hope one day we will win,” he said.
The popularity of the game has seen youths taking it as a form of income through betting.
Acid Pool Club proprietor, Charlton Muchisi, whose club is lying on seventh position on the Mutare Pool League table, said:
“It is true that the game of pool is now the in-thing. It now has many followers across different age groups. We now have youngsters who spent the whole day practicing shots on the table and they enjoy it.
“Naturally, this also transcends to betting. We now have people who survive through betting pool matches. This is the reality. Some of the pool players are earning much more than what a footballer is getting after 90 minutes of hard running on the pitch.”