The 16 members of the Sudbury Afro-Heritage Seniors soccer club knew going in that many shared a common cultural bond, one that could be reached via an equally shared passion for the sport that reached so many across the globe.
Turns out they also share a very real talent on the pitch - at least based on their incredible run during the summer of 2023, that is what one has to surmise.
Battling through our warm weather months right through to the end of October, the gents would go toe to toe with eight other worthy foes in the Outdoor Over 40 Men’s League run under the leadership of the Sudbury Regional Competitive Soccer League (SCRSL).
Thankfully for this crew, they didn’t just battle; they prevailed, far more often than not.
The Afro-Heritage seniors emerged as both league champions in addition to capturing the Milan Vrab Tournament Cup mid-season showdown, all while being tested regularly by the likes of the Italia Flyers, Caruso Club, SC Italia, Orient Dragons, RPG, Pharmaright, SC Italia II and the Sudbury Athletic.
“This was a collective effort, combining our individual skills and also the desire to excel both on and off the field,” noted team leader Francois Nzotungwanimana. In fact, the experienced midfielder has been central to soccer efforts that have galvanized the African immigrant population within the nickel city, but also worked closely with the countless others whose families came to Canada over the course of the past century or so.
“The majority of our team makers have some ties to African origins - but the name is very encompassing,” said Nzotungwanimana. “Afro-Heritage includes black, arabic, white, indian and caribbean descendents who all historically originate from Africa. The teams in the regional leagues (in Sudbury) have always had ties to their origins: Polish White Eagles, S.C. Italia, Panhellenic, Croatia Adria, etc ..."
“But many people of afro-heritage who were playing in isolation and not part of any organized league locally,” he added. “We attracted them, formed teams and have enjoyed a lot of support from the Sudbury soccer community.” In fact, the very first uniforms the group would don were donated by the Panhellenic Soccer Club, proudly tied closely to the Greek community in these parts.
While the players who have assembled with the Afro-Heritage Over 40 team cover a wide swath of African nations, Nzotungwanimana suggested that there are some commonalities that have been shared through inter-continental competition that present themselves on the field of play, tactically-speaking.
“Our style of play has been more defensive but we use our speed and skills in counter-attack build ups as well,” said Nzotungwanimana.
That said, the depth of soccer talent that has accumulated in these parts over decades on end would create a formidable pathway that was to be travelled by the friendly import who also lends a hand of the coaching side of the equation to the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) team that includes his skilled and speedy son, Frank.
“Our league was tough this year; all nine teams had a chance to win,” he said. “The championship was decided only in the last few league games due to the level of competition.”
Still, there is something to be said for competing in some thirty games and tasting defeat only twice, oncee in penalty shots as Afro-Heritage barely missed out on the coveted hardware trifecta that is up for grabs in this loop.
The 2023 edition of the Sudbury Afro-Heritage Senior team featured goalkeeper Adam Marlot, defenders Saeed Ziaratghi, Kablan Alias, Robert Nanka-Bruce, Elendu Okoronkwo, midfielders Eugene Ben–Awuah, Mohammadi “Ali” Ghorbanibami, Seth Korang, Richard Oussou, Kossi Nowoudou, Chris Koffi Kouassi and Francois Nzotungwanimana, as well as strikers Manuel Ciesternas, Bini Ozias and Antonie Justice.