SIR ALEX FERGUSON, adoringly referred to simply as Fergie by drooling followers, is a colossus in the game owing to his trophy-laden reign at Manchester United which turned Old Trafford into a Theatre of Dreams and powered the Red Devils’ juggernaut. The venerated retired coach became something of an oracle that each time he spoke the world listened attentively. He was such an influential figure not only in the English giants’ dugout but also commanded respect, which he earned on merit, among peers and foes alike.
Over his illustrious career Ferguson has blessed us with several illuminating quotes. One such enduring and endearing remark, made after his side’s remarkable comeback and incredibly astonishing triumph in the 1999 Champions League final over Bayern Munich right at the death of the game is “Football, bloody hell.” Fergie was figuratively speaking here, for there was no blood at all on that Camp Nou pitch on that May 26 night in Barcelona, Spain! Only sweat and tears (who can forget how former Ghana international and the Bavarians defender Samuel Osei Kuffour uncontrollably wept himself inconsolable!) The Scot had simply been bowled over by that night’s stunning game, which even neutrals marvelled at.
On the local front, however, our domestic game has been a laughable burlesque of the type of football the ex-Manchester United trainer was romanticising in those metaphorical words.
Events of the recent past weeks have been deeply disturbing as some of our stadiums were turned into hard hat areas following unsavoury acts of violence and hooliganism.
Instead of us admiring the beauty of our game, we are left bemused with how ugly it is turning following spates of skirmishes at match venues.
On April 28, this year as the season was just kicking off, it rained both goals on the park and missiles in the stands as violence marred the duel between hosts Nichrut and visitors CAPS United during a seven-goal thriller. Interrupted just under 10 minutes from time, the match suffered a 16-minute stoppage and left a bloody trail of injured fans.
Perhaps this past month of October has witnessed high incidence of these despicable acts.
In a Zifa Central Region Division One title-decider at Ascot on October 21, alleged Tongogara supporters took it out on TelOne fans and attacked them after losing the game that went with a promotion ticket into the top-tier league. Thuggery haunted the same venue again only four days later when suspected Highlanders followers ran riot, forcing the game to be stopped for nearly 30 minutes in a league contest their team was eventually thumped 4-0 by Chapungu. Hardly three days after this deplorable incident Dynamos fans were also at it, causing a near-abandonment of the game as assistant referee Salani Ncube was stretchered off the pitch and had to be replaced by the fourth official following an injury he sustained from objects thrown from the stands. This forced a 13-minute pause in the game, as DeMbare trailed 2-1 to Triangle in a Chibuku Super Cup semi-final clash.
The Sugar Boys coach Taurai Mangwiro was naturally livid at what he feared would “end up endangering the lives of many.”
“At some stage I thought it was no longer safe for my players to continue . . . I was busy protesting . . . having missiles thrown . . . and to make matters worse we have the assistant referee getting injured . . ., ” he fumed in a post-match interview with our sister paper The Herald.
In the wake of this eruption of hooliganism and violence at stadiums there has been a loud and growing chorus condemning its prevalence, with both the mother body and league authorities adding their voices.
“Football stadiums are meant for entertainment, but if violence is not curtailed it will not be a surprise if most people stay away from the stadiums which will not be good for football. Refereeing is a specialised field and the experts must be allowed to oversee their logical conclusion without having to fear for their lives from hooligans who are ignorant of the ever-changing laws of the game,” said ZIFA Referees Committee vice-chairman Gladmore Muzambi, adding “Authorities need to come with punishments deterrent enough to avoid a repeat of such behaviour which is now very worrying. Violence compromises the safety of not only match officials but all the stakeholders who would have come to enjoy football. There is no doubt an urgent need to take swift, deterrent and publicised action.”
Premier Soccer League chief Farai Jere also weighed in: “We condemn violence in the strongest possible terms and the PSL will come down hard on the hooligan element some of which has regrettably been target at an integral real part of the game, our referees . . . reports of referees being attacked are as regrettable as they are regressive at a time when we want our league to be on par with some of the best leagues in the world.”
But are we doing enough to weed out and rid our game of these twin evils?
0Where does this leave the interests of our sponsors, those paying to get associated with our domestic football? Are we not short-changing other stakeholders in the game? On the whole, where does this take and leave our game?
Football – an extremely emotive game – can be exciting, absorbing and enjoyable but this is certainly not what Sir Alex Ferguson meant when he remarked that “Football, bloody hell” as he purred about the sport’s rollercoaster nature. If it is about football that you care let’s share the cheer because we are made for the game, mad about the game!
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