MILTON NCUBE was tackled to the ground, referee Philani Ncube gave the foul, Ncube shrugged off the injury, stood up and struck the free-kick, Beaven Chikaka jumped and Nomore John, the Harare City goalkeeper reacted. Only it was too late – the ball hit the back of the net and the lid to Pandora’s Box was hacked off.
It had been one goal apiece and Chikaka thought he had won it for Highlanders. Only it was not a winning goal, it was it offside. There was one more drama to come: conspiracy, accusations, missiles and terror. In the middle of it all, a man, a man in the wrong place and at the wrong time.
Salani Ncube, the assistant referee would feel them closing in. When he disallowed the goal, the match should have continued. Instead it was stopped. Suddenly he was surrounded by furious Highlanders’ players, only it was temporary – the players accepted the decision. Only it was too late, the fans took matters into their hands.
John started playing acting for a draw and Highlanders voiced their displeasure. The offside and then the insult by John were an incitement. A series of interlocking stories came to a head, building to a violent climax late. One hooligan threw a stone; it was cue of what was to come. More fans turned hooligan – stones flew into the field of play like confetti at a wedding.
Riot police came across and, sheltering the players, ushered them to the sanctuary which was the touchline near the VIP stand. Peter Dube, the Highlanders Chairman and his executive intervened and after ten minutes the match resumed.
Chikaka’s ghost goal had been scored in 83rd minute – meaning that there was about ten minutes – enough time for Highlanders to win the match. Kelvin Kaindu was the only one who seemed to realise the match could be won, he hugged the touchline trying to drag his team back into it. His team, though, had become deadweight on his back, victims of their own fury, paralysed by the injustice of it all. Virtually nothing had happened before Chikaka’s disallowed goal, just fouls and faking, and virtually nothing would happen after it either.
Whether the protests for the offside were justified, the scale of the protest was not justified. Nothing can explain such fallout, quite so nuclear. Hooliganism grabbed the headlines. Hooligans were at the heart of it all. The only thing that the violence did was spare Highlanders from being criticised by the media for a poor performance. Bosso looked off-colour, heavy-legged and as if their minds where somewhere else and credit to Kaindu for admitting that his boys were “below average”.
In a nutshell Highlanders’ fans lost their bottle and Bosso drop points.
It is not only Highlanders, in May, Dynamos marshals assaulted the Hwange coaching stuff, rendering the colliery team coach-less as Nation Dube and his assistant Manelo Njekwa were rushed to hospital.
On another less tuneful Sunday, an April clash between Caps United and Chicken Inn was also ruined by violence and was abandoned deep in injury time after Caps United fans could not stomach defeat.
The two violent marred matches surely prove that football in this country is a long way from turning professional, for it is such behaviour that chases away sponsors and advertisers who have a desire to pour their money into the game but have no wish to be associated with violence and controversy.
Though no life was lost in the two hooligan tarnished matches, the violence shows that Zimbabwe did not learn from the tragic events of year 2000, at the National Sports Stadium, where 12 people died during a stampede, at a World Cup qualifying match between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
These are incidents that have turned football ugly from beautiful. No wonder some spectators who endured such acts of violence now prefer not to pay to watch a match in the stadium again, no matter how important the game is. A certain degree of fear has crept and continues to creep in and that has seen fans staying away from matches.
Thus it can be safely said that for all its entertainment value, football in Zimbabwe is not just a game anymore. It embodies local culture and local pride. Wherever football is played, emotions will always be at a high and anything that can be of controversy to some can spark and fan the flames of hooliganism.
As much as we do not excuse the fans for being violent we must also point fingers at the administrators who lack the flair for organisation to reorient the supporters to accept that bad decisions premeditated or not, do happen in football.
Wining matches is in the DNA of Highlanders, Caps United and Dynamos and fans are so used to it that losing is unbearable pain, but is that an excuse to turn violent?
However psychologists who specialise in crowd behaviour and who have made a special study of football fans’ behaviour disagree with the notion that only a few trouble makers are responsible. They believe that many caught up in riots have no previous history of violence, and instead are galvanised into action by a sense of solidarity which emerges suddenly and powerfully, as a direct result of the way their team is treated.
The PSL is predictably going to descend on the Highlanders family with a heavy hand but that will not make the cancer of hooliganism disappear as the battle to prevent a return to the dark days requires stringent measures.
Eradicating hooliganism would need a culture of change. The minute we think we have it under control there will be trouble. Do not think for a moment that Dynamos and other teams’ fans have changed; they have not changed at all. If you poke the animal in the Dynamos’ fans well enough it will rear its ugly head. So as much as the PSL will try to teach the Highlanders fans to behave well, it must make sure that it teaches the other teams’ fans to act right as well.
An improvement in crowd control, appropriate policing, state-of-the-art CCTV systems and the efforts of clubs and the PSL is needed to make football a fan-friendly environment, but that would require money, lots of money.
Currently ZIFA is broke, the PSL is broke, the clubs are broke and the business community is sitting on the fence, fearing to invest in a game whose image has taken a lot of battering over the years. With such depleted resources it will be difficult to stop hooliganism but that does not mean attempts should not be made.
The media can also play a role. The coverage of hooliganism betrays a curious paradox. While every fragment of aggression between Dynamos and Highlanders fans gets the full front-page treatment, intra-violence between fans of the same team goes virtually unreported.
Every season fans turn on each other but you won’t see much evidence of this in the media as the press plays down such incidents and dismisses them as trivial. The clubs are generally unmoved by such small scale skirmishes.
Over the years, it has also become increasingly clear that the police cannot and should not deal with hooliganism alone and that an integrated approach is needed. In practice, measures tend to focus on ways to prevent rival fans from having a go at each other. This one-sided focus on security is detrimental to an atmosphere of friendliness.
Well-trained marshals can contribute significantly to hospitality and the uprooting of trouble causers inside stadiums. The behaviour of players, coaches and club-officials also influences fan behaviour. Supporters’ clubs can also play a role.
Security forces deal with public order and the arrest of offenders. Public prosecutors and judges deal with apprehended offenders.
To prevent hooliganism, all these parties have to develop policies and co-operate with one another. If the different policies are not made explicit, if they are not integrated with one another and if arrangements are not binding, they will not work as expected.
And as long as football hooliganism continues to be presented as a preserve of Dynamos and Highlanders fans, rather than as an endemic part of the national game, there will be few serious attempts to understand why a significant number of football fanatics choose to spend their soccer Sundays fighting and throwing missiles.
And as a result hooliganism will continue rearing its unsolicited ugly head.