OFFICIAL club Twitter accounts aren’t usually the best sources of entertainment on social media, but one Castle Lager Premiership football side seems to be getting it right.
BY FORTUNE MBELE
Newboys Bulawayo Chiefs are one of the most entertaining sides on Twitter, using banter to actively engage fans on the platform which appears to have inspired other local clubs such as Highlanders‚ CAPS United and Chicken Inn to up their social media game in recent months.
In just over six months of its creation, Bulawayo Chiefs’ Twitter account has amassed over 5 000 followers with the biggest among them Italian football giants AS Roma.
AS Roma, whose own English Twitter page is rated as one of the best in Europe, recently expressed their admiration for Chiefs’ use of banter to actively engage fans on the platform.
“Thank you @Bulawayo Chiefs. It’s now official — you are our No. 1 partner,” the Italian club said in response to the Zimbabwean club’s tweets, which are usually sarcastic in nature and always accompanied by complementing photos.
So engaging is Bulawayo Chiefs’ Twitter timeline that some football fans have been left wondering who is behind the humorous tweets.
The Sports Hub can exclusively reveal that Bulawayo Chiefs media officer Thulani Sibanda, popularly known as “Javas” in Bulawayo arts circles, is the man behind the side’s Twitter account.
Sibanda said the modest club came up with the idea to join Twitter as a way of aggressively marketing the Bulawayo Chiefs brand.
“The main objective of that Twitter account is to push the brand of Bulawayo Chiefs,” said Sibanda, who is also the administrator of Bulawayo dance group Siyaya Arts.
“Football is not all about seriousness. It must not be too intense and ours is actually a clever way of calling for peace in football. For instance, when you lose a game, you should pat each other on the back and just say it’s part of the game.
“There is no need to hate each other. That’s how we started and while we do that, we want people to know that Bulawayo Chiefs is all about football and brotherhood. That is why our parting shot in all our tweets is ‘It’s all in the name of sport’,” Sibanda says.
Chiefs have 5 500 followers on Twitter and they are well aware that they are still a long way from catching up with their more popular rivals (CAPS United have over 15 000 followers while Highlanders have 7 500) in the league.
Harare giants Dynamos have several unofficial Twitter handles, which also command a sizeable following.
But Chiefs are continuing to chip away and they hope to attract more followers in the coming months.
Sibanda says Chiefs want to make the most of their recent interaction with AS Roma by ensuring that the relationship between the two clubs grows beyond communication on social media. He, however, also emphasises the need for the club to survive relegation first.
“We want to strike a premier relationship with AS Roma, but now we are focusing on surviving the chop. Once we remain in the Premier Soccer League, then we can work on cementing relations and things like that, but at the moment, we are focusing on staying afloat. These are tough times for us. The boys need to concentrate on winning the last games.”
He added: “It means a lot that they (AS Roma) follow us. It ticks the box in terms of our objectives. We wanted the name to go out there and it has done that. We have various communications that we receive from these other teams through our inbox.
“We interact with players in South Africa and Europe. Most of those who write to us are brands on their own and we don’t want to splash them on our wall, for instance, to say we just spoke to (Manchester United striker) Marcus Rashford. Those people have their way of doing their things. We are just waiting for the time because it has to be beneficial to both of us. When AS Roma spoke to us our following on Twitter increased. We got followers from Europe and as far as Israel and in return they have received local following.”
Sibanda’s most recent banter on Twitter came after the unceremonious sacking of coach Tonderai Ndiraya by Ngezi Platinum Stars following their 1-0 defeat to minnows Bulawayo City at Barbourfields Stadium through an own goal by striker Keith Murera.
“Coach Ndiraya of Ngezi Platinum, so sorry that you got fired. It’s never good news to hear of a sacking of a coach.
On behalf of your player who scored an own goal that led to your firing we, extend our sympathy,” Chiefs posted.
That post was followed by another tease after Ngezi Platinum announced the sacking: “So when a coach gets fired does his confidentiality contract expire too? Please, this is just out of curiosity and has nothing to do with our upcoming game vs Ngezi soon.”
The soft-spoken Sibanda, however, acknowledges that not all social media users find the funny side of their humorous tweets.
“Not everyone will like you. Here and there you always get one or two people echoing their distaste, but we try not to get too personal. We try to keep it in a light way so that everyone who reads what we post sees that it’s just friendly banter, but not anything meant to provoke emotions,” he said.
The multitasking Sibanda, who is a trained journalist, a full-time arts administrator and an events co-ordinator rolled into one, says following his exploits on Twitter, he has been approached by a number of clubs and corporates to manage their social media accounts.
He toured Europe with Siyaya in 2004 where he had an opportunity to watch some big football matches in the English Premier League, which he says has contributed immensely to his understanding of football fans.
Sibanda is also a qualified Five-A-Side (Futsal) referee.
As a parting shot, he says: “I wake up every day and just go with the flow. Some of the tweets I don’t plan. I just follow the wind and what’s happening. All I need to be careful about is that what I tweet aligns with our objectives as a club.”