Nyanza — Barely three months after relocating to Nyanza, Southern Province, Rayon Sport Football Club are adapting to the new environment and target to win this year's national football league, Times Sport reports.
In mid-September, the Blues settled in Nyanza town following an agreement with the district authorities to take over the running of the country's most supported team and one of the oldest.
But, when the decision to relocate the club to Nyanza was reached, team captain Karim 'McKenzie' Nizigiyimana did not expect to meet as many fans as those he regularly met in Kigali-often cheering the club on matches or rushing to greet the players on the streets.
However, that self-imposed imagination was to be challenged by what the team is experiencing since the team returned to its original home.
"I cannot say they [fans] are as many as those in Kigali but they are too many and too supportive. Whenever we have training sessions, they turn out in big mass numbers and regularly", McKenzie told Times Sport.
"Whenever we have a match, they turn up massively to support us and you can read on their faces that they want us to win every match and that's good for the players. The atmosphere here [Nyanza] is really not different from the one in Kigali," he added
Head coach, Didier Gomes da Rosa, qualifies the ambience within his team's camp as 'incredible'.
"As a new coach in Rwanda, I was surprised by the numbers of [Rayon's] supporters," admitted the Frenchman, who was given a one-year renewable contract in October.
"During our training sessions, we receive many supporters. It's incredible to see so many fans coming to training sessions."
With the warm welcome the team received in Nyanza, it's evident the players' morale has been boosted and, undoubtedly, it helped them adapt to the new environment.
According to McKenzie, players are 'literary happy' with the environment at their new home.
"When we settled here, it was very hard to adapt to life in a little-known town for many of us. We had really no friends here to help us and we had left our acquaintances in Kigali.
But, that was not really a big challenge and as soon as we started our activities, we made new connections," he said.
Striker Nasser Irakoze echoed his captain's sentiment and said they hope to be successful at the new home in Nyanza. "We have support and we envisage a bright future for our team here," said Irakoze.
Since the six-time league champions relocated back to Nyanza, many football followers in the country are optimistic and view the move as a good idea for the Blues.
The Blues relocated to Nyanza after years of intense pressure for not winning trophies while at the same time struggling with financial problems, a situation which resulted sometimes into the team's failure to pay its players and staff members.
Following their agreement with Nyanza District, it is expected that the financial support will help to solve the problems, thus positioning the team to become genuine title challengers.
Besides the financial support, Rayon is expected to reap big from the big support from the thousands of its fans-which is regarded as another asset for the Blues.
But, players are asking for the fans' support if the team is to win this year's national football league trophy.
"Fans should put enough trust into their team and remain behind us. We will do enough to please them", McKenzie pledged.
According Gomes Da Rosa, 41, Rayon aspires to win this year's League title, "We are working hard to achieve that [objective]."
"Obviously, we count on our fans. Personally, I hope they have trust in my capabilities and those of their team. But, they [fans] should know that we can't succeed in just one day," Gomes noted.
And the result Gomez is talking about is winning the first league title in nearly eight seasons.
"I believe in my players," the French manager notes. "We will do everything possible to win this year's national league title or the Peace cup trophy or even both, why not."
"It is not an easy task but it is possible," an optimistic Gomes stated.
Rayon was founded in Nyanza in May 1968 and moved to Kigali in 1986, where it has been using Amahoro Stadium for their home matches.
After 26 years in Kigali City, six-time league champions decided in September to return to their original home. With the agreement, Nyanza District took over charges concerning payment of players' salaries, coaching staff, feeding and accommodation for the team.
While in Nyanza, Rayon won the league twice in 1975 and 1981, and the Rwanda Cup in 1976, 1979 and 1982.
In Kigali, the club won the Rwanda Cup in 1989, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2005 and the league in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2004. Rayon became the first Rwandan club to win the Cecafa regional club championship in 1998.
Rayon sits in ninth position on the league log with nine points, nine behind leaders SC Kiyovu after eight rounds of matches.