Flames captain Peter â€˜Mjojoâ€™ Mponda was accustomed to winning the top-flight league title when he played for fallen giants Big Bullets.
He played for the Peopleâ€™s Team until 2005 and won the league consecutively seven times on top of other trophies.
But since he went to South Africa it has been the other way roundâ€”either fighting relegation or for promotion.
Mpondaâ€™s team Santos is currently involved in the play-offs as they seek to avoid the boot from the top-flight Premier Soccer League (PSL) after finishing second from bottom in the just ended season.
This is the fourth time Mponda is playing in the PSL play-offs in his seven seasons in South Africa.
Like other stars who also used to enjoy podium dances here at home, he confessed the stress they endure when fighting for survival and promotion in the rainbow nation.
“It has been hectic for me and so stressful. Since I came here I have never played for a team finishing in the top eight of the PSL.
“It has been the case of fighting relegation since I joined Black Leopards in 2005. Itâ€™s either going down or surviving by a whisker through play-offs and I hope weâ€™ll survive the chop this time around [with Santos],” said Mponda.
In his first season with Leopardsâ€”alongside compatriots Robert Ngâ€™ambi and Fischer Kondoweâ€” the team survived relegation on goal difference, then through play-offs the following season.
In the third season, they got relegated after losing in the play-offs. In 2009 they were almost relegated from the first division to the Vodacom League, South Africaâ€™s third-tier league, but survived on goal difference.
In 2010, Leopards missed promotion to the PSL after losing in the play-offs. Mponda then moved to Santos whereas Ngâ€™ambi found a new lease of life at Platinum Stars.
And in his first season at Santos, the team finished just a point above the drop zone and the Flames captainâ€™s only solace was that he was named the clubâ€™s player of the year.
This year, Santos have to win a round robin league play-offs against Chippa and Peter Wadabwaâ€™s Thanda Royal Zulu for them to remain in the top-flight league.
“It is a pity that after getting used to winning the championship with such ease in Malawi, I have turned into a relegation fighter. At Leopards, I thought it was because it was a smaller team and when I joined Santos I thought things would change. But once I arrived here they [also] turned into relegation candidates. Quite a struggle, isnâ€™tâ€™ it?” he said on Wednesday.
Play-offs are stressful
However, the Flames skipper said being involved in play-offs is more stressful when coming from the PSL side than from the NFD.
“From the PSL it is always tough. You are frustrated and have no motivation. But for the NFD you have the will-power to win because it is what you have been working for,” he said.
The interview was conducted on Wednesday afternoon through yahoo mail instant chat messaging as Santos were playing their first play-off game against Thanda which they won 1-0.
Mponda was not in the team, but sounded anxious as he spoke about the proceedings of the game.
“Eishh! This game is killing me. I switched off the TV when [Thanda] hit the post twice,” he wrote.
Another Flames star who has had a fair share of PSL play-offs adventure, is striker Jimmy Zakazaka, who said players are under more pressure than in any other competition.
“It is a matter of do-or-die and it can be very disturbing and stressful. It is when you have club owners and their relatives becoming coaches. It is totally chaotic.
“The club owners come into the dressing rooms with cash bonus pledges. Imagine you donâ€™t get bonuses when you win in normal games. Then you are told you will get four times your monthly salary for winning one game and they show you the cash. Obviously, you get more confused. But on the other hand, they are games that help build oneâ€™s character,” he said.
Zakazaka won promotion with Free State Stars (2007) and Bay United (2008) and faced relegation with the same teams in 2006 and 2009 respectively.
Former Mighty Wanderers captain Harry Nyirendaâ€”who won the local flagship league with the Nomads three years agoâ€”has escaped play-offs as his team Leopards finished the PSL just above Santos.
“It was tough, very tough and for someone not used to fighting relegation; it can be very hectic,” said Nyirenda.
Goalkeeper Swadick Sanudi is the worst casualty so far after he let in seven goals as his team Dynamos lost 7-2 last week to get relegated from the NFD to the Vodacom League.
“Things changed as we fought relegation. We started training five hours a day instead of the normal two hours a day. Imagine, prior to the last game the coach changed the line-up four times.
“But for once during this period there is no segregation and racism as it is during the normal league games. We are no longer treated as foreigners and there is great unity,” said Sanudi.