In February 2022, The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) suspended Zimbabwe’s membership due to allegations of government interference in football affairs. While there were many arguments about the suspension as well as the laws surrounding it, one thing was clear: it sucks to be us. This suspension is not only humiliating, it also causes heart-wrenching pain to us steadfast followers of the national men’s football team, known as the Warriors, who have been unable to support them since the suspension was imposed.
Watching the Warriors play at the National Sports stadium in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, has been one of the highlights of my experience living in the big city. Although it has its challenges too, it’s a marvellous day-out, from buying and waving the national flag on the way to the stadium, to the huge roar when the players take the field, and singing the national anthem passionately albeit with little unison. And, of course, let’s not forget the celebrations when the team wins. For the record, in the five times I have seen the Warriors play, they’ve always won, a fact I am ready to shove down people’s throats whenever I’m given the chance.
And now all this has been taken away from us. From a fan’s perspective it’s painful to hope and wait for the powers to find a resolution so we can get our international football back. I also look at the talented players in the domestic circuit, as well as those scattered across the globe, but these immensely talented football stars are missing out on representing their country in the prestigious yellow and green of the Warriors whilst they’re still in their prime. For me, this is the biggest setback for the Warriors. It even surpasses the Asiagate scandal of 2007-2010, which involved Zimbabwean players and officials going on tours to Asia and losing several games, leading to suspicions of match-fixing.
However, it was not always doom and gloom as far as the Warriors are concerned. I recall when they qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia back in 2004. The nation went into a state of frenzy as scores of people took to the streets in Harare, Bulawayo and even in Muzarabani chanting “Tunisia, Tunisia!” in celebration of the team’s unprecedented achievement. Amidst the economic turmoil crippling the country at that time, the Warriors gave Zimbabweans that boost of positivity that we all need in life.
When the tournament began, everybody gathered in their living rooms to watch the Warriors take on the African giant Egypt in the first match of the tournament. Friends, family and even strangers swarmed together to watch the match. Fans of all levels, from die-hard supporters to casual fans and first-time watchers were eager to witness history. The Warriors did not disappoint, scoring early with a thumping header by team captain, Peter Ndlovu. The huge cheer which erupted when the ball nestled in the back of the net was raw and beautiful, it was a surreal moment for every Zimbabwean all across the world. An outsider might have called us borderline eccentric, but who cares, our beloved Warriors had made us proud. The match went ended in a tie, 2-2. The Warriors did not qualify for the next round of the tournament, as they got were eliminated on goal difference, but they had won hearts of many and were treated as heroes upon their return from Tunisia.
But like everything in life, there’s no use crying over spilt milk. It is what it is, and my next dose of sporting dopamine was provided by another national team in another discipline: cricket. The Chevrons, as they are known, provided the edge-of-seat excitement I craved for as a sports fan. The Chevrons were previously associated with disappointing results and lifeless performances. From my childhood, I watched in despair as the country had become a pariah in the cricket world, and many senior players had fled to pastures yonder.
In 2022, however, the Chevrons produced some brilliant victories, and to my delight, their games attracted fans from all demographics – race, class, gender, faith, political affiliation and level of cricket knowledge. This resurgence has been led by key player Sikandar Raza, whose form has been pivotal to the Chevrons’ improvement. I am also part of the vibrant support unit, popularly known as the Castle Corner, and we are defined by a passionate enthusiasm and charged-up national loyalty that had hitherto been reserved for the Warriors. It has me thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Chevrons are filling the Warrior shaped hole in my heart…
26 January, 2023