Nicknamed the ‘Yellow Kings’ and with a huge fan base at their home town in Adigrat, Tigray, The Welwalo are joining the Premier League, a top echelon football tournament in Ethiopia, for the first time. Welwalo joned a team of few elite football clubs – Tidel, Mesebo, and Seloda as well as Guna, Trans and Mekelle City – from the State of Tigray to make notable contributions in Ethiopian football. EBR’s adjunct writer Abiy Wendifraw spoke with the club’s administrators to learn about their preparations for the soon-to-begin football season.
Yellow has always been the colour for football in Addis. The only thing the Premier League giants and fierce rivals — St. George and Ethiopia Buna — share is this colour. Inevitably, yellow shirts, scarves and banners will keep on conquering Addis Ababa with the ever growing fans of the home sides and the growing interest of the clubs to engage in merchandise sales as the new source of revenue. The new season will have more reason at stake to make the country’s top flier league even yellowish. Welwalo Adigrat University joined the battle field with its yellow army.
It was after a nerve wracking campaign that Welwalo Adigrat University along with Jimma City, and Mekele City secured a place in the Ethiopian Premier League. In fact, Welwalo and Jimma are the two clubs that have earned direct promotion after finishing top of the Ethiopian Higher League. Nicknamed the ‘Yellow Kings’ and with a huge fan base at their home town in Adigrat, the Welwalo are joining the league for the first time. Established in 1956, the club faced breakup in the 1980s and 90s. The club was reestablished in 2012. Welwalo became the third club from the State of Tigray to join the Premier League and one of the two along with Mekelle City to join the league, after Trans Football Club was demoted from the league six year ago.
“We are here to compete,” says Solomon Geberetsadek, the club’s Technical Director. “Our plan is to finish [the tournament] as one of the top six clubs in the league table in next three seasons.” The ambition among the club management is apparent as they went straight into strengthening the team after securing the participation in the Premier League. Just a few weeks after their season in the Higher League, the second tier league in the country, ended, the club started to take immediate actions in the player transfer market.
They were successful in their effort as more than a dozen players who are believed to have the capacity to take the team to the next level already arrived before the end of August. Nine of these players have premier league experience. The other two players are from the Higher League. According to Solomon, they are also signing three Ghanaians who were in trial at the club for weeks.
This move will skyrocket the club’s expense. Wewalo had been very economical in building one of the strongest teams in the higher league. The maximum salary for their stars was just ETB7,000. In two months, the club’s salary structure will get smashed by the staggering new deals. The new 11 domestic players have contracts that earn them an annual salary in the range of ETB500,000 to ETB1.4 million individually. The team’s head coach, Berhane Gebregziabher, who led them to the dream tournament receiving just ETB8,000 monthly salary and his backroom staff will be expected to have massive pay rise.
Welwalo Adigrat has never been known for its financial muscle until Adigrat University and the city administration came to rescue it signing a Memorandum of Understanding to take the administration and finance of the team at the end of 2015. Now, the club seems to have a better prospect. Following their promotion to the Premier League, they secured much needed sponsorship deals and financial support from various institutions and businesses.
The administration of the State of Tigray congratulated the team with ETB15 million contributions while Sur Construction PLC, a subsidiary company of Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigrai (EFFORT) donated ETB10 million and a new 45-seat bus to the club. According to Dawit Abraha, public relation officer and member of the executive committee of the Club, several other companies are also interested to finance the club.
Now, Welwalo belongs to the group of great teams from the State of Tigray known during the 1950s and 60s as well as in recent years such as Tidel, Mesebo, and Seloda as well as Guna and Trans football clubs. Tidel and Mesebo teams represented Tigray within the Ethiopian National Football Championship and Tidel football club was one of the top teams in Ethiopia. In fact, Tidel Football Club had significant contributions to the overall football development in Ethiopia. Guna and Trans football clubs did the same and were able to make it to the premier league six years ago. However, the ecstasy in the state was short-lived as the clubs didn’t stay for much longer time in the league.
This time around, the history was once again repeated after many years by the courageous, committed and hardworking Welwalo Adigrat University and Mekelle football clubs. From the start to finish, Welwalo Football Club stood first in the second tier league games group match from start to finish and automatically qualified for the next season’s tournament in the Ethiopian Premier League.
The enthusiasm of Welwalo’s football achievement seems still fresh in Adigrat, the home of a few successful businessmen. One can see the club banners still waving in the city even two months after their last home game. Now the club officials are weighing on the best possible way to utilize their diehard fans in different places.
“The Welwalos have enormous potential if we can mobilize our supporters. On a match day, price for any yellow colour cloth or a piece of garment goes up. We are preparing to supply the team products to the fans coming to support us everywhere. Next to Adigrat, playing in Mekele and Addis Ababa can easily become like a home game to Welwalo,” says Solomon
While violence among football fans is increasingly becoming a threat in the country, “The Welwalos” model of managing ticketing and stadium stewardship is working. The club has organized a group of eight people in every eight kebeles in their home town. These 64 people are responsible to sell tickets a week before another home match. On the match day, the organizers will seat among the crowd in even distances with one another.
“Now we know how many people may come to the stadium. Being among the spectators who are placed in allocated stand of the stadium, those 64 people will also know something more. They know almost each and every spectator attending the game. There is zero chance for someone to initiate violence and go unnoticed.”
These multitasked people are not volunteers. They will always be rewarded 30Pct of the ticket revenue. Non residents and those who prefer a sit at the main tribune buy ticket, which costs ETB30, from the city center, Piassa.
For many, the name Welwalo sounds like unfamiliar in Ethiopian football. “The fact is, the club is one of the oldest football clubs in the country,” says Dawit. It has been competing in different levels until the Derg decided to get rid of teams with a name of region and particular ethnic groups. After repeatedly failed attempts to re-establish the club in the 1990s, the club started to participate in regional tournaments in 2012. In 12 months, they qualified for place in the National League. With a plan to become a premier league participant in five years, they kept pushing their efforts. After coming close to achieve their goal in the last two years, they did it exactly in the fifth year.
In the past six years, Tigray had no representative in the Ethiopian Premier League. Guna football team vanished from the scene in 2008. Trans Ethiopia FC followed after its relegation in 2011. Yet, Welwalo Adigrat University and Mekele City have arrived in the league together. Perhaps, Shire Endesilase and Axum football teams, both competing in the lower league, may have the chance to join them in the years to come. Now, the waiting is over. After six years, football is back in the State of Tigray. EBR
5th Year • September 2017 • No. 54