By Tommi Gronlund.
Masonga doesn’t have a definite date of birth, there’s a date on his birth certificate which he got at 12 years old but that was plucked out of the air. According to his mother, Anna, he was born in the wet season, on a Wednesday. Masonga translates as we talk to Anna via facebook video call. ‘We just don’t keep track of those things, ages aren’t important. You start young, you get less young.’ The call breaks up and we say our goodbyes. How did a young boy of such humble beginnings make it to becoming a professional footballer?
TG: You grew up in a village in Tanzania, playing most of your football on dirt pitches, how was that?
It was great, we could play every day with whatever ball we could find or make. Sometimes we’d have a nice ball other times we used to collect plastic bags and elastic bands. Those balls were the best because they didn’t burst when they went into the acacia thorns. Whenever they fell apart we’d go and find some more trash to tie together. We didn’t care what state the ball was in, we just wanted to run and play with our friends.
TG: So how did you go from that to more organised football? When did you first get coaching?
M: Weirdly enough I got a scholarship to an international school through music, the head of our village would teach guitar and drumming lessons and had a connection at the school. I wasn’t actually all that good but I think my attitude made me stand out, I’d turn up an hour early so that I could get in some practice on the guitar. Oh, by the way there was only one guitar between 10 of us, the lessons were mostly us watching our teacher play.
I was always pretty dedicated with music, with football whatever, I loved improving. When I was really young, maybe 5 or 6, I remember spending days practising keepy-uppies until I’d got to 50 and then 100. I always wanted to get better.
I was 13 when I got the scholarship and going to an international school was so different from what I was used to. In my village school we were sitting silently at our desks being lectured to. The kids and the teachers sometimes didn’t care or even turn up for lessons, then all of a sudden I’m sitting next to kids who are paying ten thousand dollars a year. It was so foreign to me. I hated it at first, I didn’t really know I was poor until then, after the first day I got home and I cried, I didn’t want to go back. I did though and soon enough I was loving every lesson, taking in everything I could. Then came the football, we were lucky to have a great group of boys who all pushed each other on and a coach who was happy to train us every day and we’d even do some sessions before school. One of the other boys went on to play pro in Kenya.
Before playing in the school side I had no idea about formations or anything, we’d play games of 20 a side in the village and looking back they were ridiculous. But we loved it. If you scored a winner in those games you were a hero for days.
TG: What are your thoughts on FASISAC? What do you like about this new football format?
M: I think it’s great, it’s all about entertainment and it suits my play, I just need half a yard and I have a chance of shooting whenever I get the ball in the final third. It leads to lots of action and some really great back and forth in the scoring.
TG: There have been five exhibition warm-up tournaments. How have you found the last month touring around Europe?
M: At first, there were some teething problems, people maybe didn’t know what to expect. In Spain for the first [tournament], I think it had been marketed wrong and they expected futsal or some famous players. They weren’t able to connect with the idea and the players. Honestly I thought ‘well, we tried I guess this won’t be a success’. I half expected the tour to be cancelled right then. But then something happened after Spain and people in the crowd had been watching the highlights on youtube. They saw some of the rules working well. Also as players we settled into the matches and the level of performance has been improving every game.
TG: The last game at the Bolton Arena in front of 8,000 people must have been an experience?
M: It was crazy! That was one of the best experiences of my life. If we can get those sort of crowds for the Championships then I will be so happy. There were kids asking me for my autograph, shouting ‘Masonga, Masonga’ I thought ‘Man this is surreal, they know my name!’ I’m quite a shy person but it was a huge compliment.
TG: Do you think FASISAC can really catch on and stand up in the football world as a sport in its own right?
M: Honestly, I don’t know. I think it’s a hell of a lot of fun and something a little bit different from what’s come before so I think it has a chance. What I can say for certain is that it’s been an absolute pleasure being part of the story so far.
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