ALMOST TWENTY YEARS LATER, I SIMPLY JUST CAN’T FORGET BURKINA FASO
IN a year’s time, God willing, I will mark the 20th anniversary of my first dance covering the Nations Cup finals — breaking new ground for local football writers when I landed in the Burkinabe capital of Ouagadougou in ’98. Almost two decades have passed, but memories of the seismic shock that greeted me on arrival for that tour of duty, a haphazard city where motor cycles outnumbered cars on dusty and chaotic streets where mayhem reigned supreme, have refused to be washed away by the passage of time.
I had been to West Africa before, with the Warriors in Ghana and the Cote d’Ivoire commercial capital of Abidjan, but all my reservations about what I saw there, nothing had prepared me for what I would walk into in Ouagadougou, sights and sounds that appeared to come from a bygone era, a place that time seemed to have forgotten and left behind.
But, for all the homesickness that overwhelmed me from the very first day I spent in Ouagadougou, every hour that looked like an eternity, I had to resign myself to the reality that this strange French-speaking country was going to be my adopted home, for virtually the whole month of February, on a mission where I would be covering my first AFCON finals.
It was a trailblazing mission, for no Zimbabwean football writer had covered a Nations Cup finals before, but I embraced the challenges this tough and tricky adventure presented and luckily for me, a fresh-faced South African forward Benni McCarthy, having just emerged from the innocence of his teenage years, used the tournament to explode into the real deal, scoring seven goals, as he powered Bafana Bafana into the final, providing me with a number of story lines to pursue in his relentless destruction of defensive shields.
Benni was duly named the player of the tournament, at the young age of 20, and when — half-a-dozen years later — I saw him play a big part in inspiring Portuguese giants FC Porto win the European Champions League, scoring four goals along the way, including two in the 2-1 victory over Manchester United in a Round of 16 match in Portugal, I felt proud to have been there when he made the giant leap into the big time back at that AFCON finals in Burkina Faso.
But, for me, the enduring image of that assignment was not Benni or the courageous campaign by that Bafana Bafana team that lost to Egypt in the final of that Nations Cup showcase.
Instead, it would be provided by the hosts, then one of the poorest countries in the world, whose history had been littered by a number of military coups, including one in which the charismatic revolutionary Thomas Sankara, was assassinated and deposed from power just 11 years before my arrival.
The way that football galvanised this poverty-stricken nation, during that unforgettable month for its people, patching the differences inflicted by years of mistrust and military coups, making them find pride in their identity as Burkinabe, irrespective of the challenges, economic or otherwise, they faced, as their national team made it all the way to the semi-finals of that AFCON tourney, is something that I will never, never, ever forget. A country that only had three stadiums, barely good enough to host the Nations Cup finals, with two in the capital Ouagadougou and one in the second city of Bobo-Dioulasso, with none of three grounds big enough to have a capacity of more than 40 000, embedded itself in the beauty of football and for a month, the people forgot their challenges as they enjoyed a merry dance with their Stallions that had to be seen to be believed.
Along the way I picked a number of French words, enough to make me engage in conversations, either with my motorcycle taxi driver or the people of both Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, enmeshed myself into their food and drinks, from the zoomkoom to the degue, dolo and yamaku and of course, to their Brakina beer.
It was such an intoxicating spectacle, providing such powerful sights and sounds that by the end of my assignment I simply didn’t want to leave, having been converted from the rebellious one who had arrived as a reluctant visitor, desperate for this nightmare to end very quickly so I could quickly return to the comforts of home sweet home, into one of these proud Burkinabe.
I had arrived in Burkina Faso believing I knew the power of football, thanks to what my beloved Dream Team had done to the people of this country, but as I left Ouagadougou, I was brutally honest to myself that I had been lying to my inner soul all along and that really dominated my thoughts on that long journey back home.
Enriched by what I saw in my unforgettable one-month adventure in that West African nation, a landlocked country with a small population just like my beloved Zimbabwe, I came to realise that this game was far much more than I had ever imagined — a very, very powerful tool for national unity, for national pride and a successful national football team was priceless in, like that Castle Lager advert, making sure that it all comes together. well, when the tournament came home ing been long washed away by memories in 1998, were high, would be a blatant lie so beautiful they will last a life-time. and when they went down 0-1 to CamALMOST 20 YEARS LATER, IT’S eroon in the opening match of that OVER TO YOU WARRIORS TO CHARM Nations Cup finals, those who felt this OUR SPIRITS was a stage too high for them, appeared I have to reveal that one of the journaljustified. ists whose writings inspired me to take
But, somehow, the Stallions turned up this profession was Bill Saidi and it it around and beat Algeria, a team our wasn’t about believing what he wrote, but Warriors will take on in their opening his gift to put his points across, his power match in Gabon, 2-1 in their next group of narration and how he played around game, to keep alive their ’98 Nations Cup with the English language. campaign. Then a nervy 1-0 win over Bill was a football fan, a die-hard Guinea in their final group game saw Dynamos supporter, which was probathem book a ticket into the quarter-finals bly expected given he had spent the better of an AFCON tourney they were hosting part of his life in Mbare at a time when where Tunisia, another team our boys DeMbare represented more than just a will take on in their Gabonese adventure, football club for millions of people in lay in wait for the Stallions. this country, a part of their identity and
Now, the whole country was firmly its fortunes would shape their moods. behind them and time appeared to stand He also had a love affair with the Warstill when that match, which ended 1-1, riors, he told me and it’s sad that just a spilled into a penalty shootout and after few days before our boys plunge into a what looked like an eternity, in which the fresh battle at the Nations Cup finals, he country’s emotions went through the full was being buried in the northern Zamroller-coaster, Burkina Faso triumphed bian city of Kitwe. 8-7 to advance to the semi-finals. Probably it was only fitting that his
It appeared the challenges of that final resting place should be in the CopBack in the ‘90s, the Burkina Faso match had sucked out everything these perbelt, the heartbeat of Zambian footnational football team, known by their Stallions could offer and they were well ball, the nursery that gave our neighfans as The Stallions, were not as powbeaten, 0-2, by eventual champions bours the likes of Alex Chola, Peter erful, a unit, as they have become today. Egypt in their semi-final while, after an Kaumba, Godfrey “Ucar” Chitalu and
By the time I arrived in Ouagadougou, incredible 4-4 draw against the DRC in of course, the greatest of them all — the Stallions had only qualified for two the third-place play-off, they only manKalusha Bwalya. Nations Cup finals, a pathetic return in aged to convert one penalty in the shootHe also loved music and played in a a region dominated by some of the contiout as they lost the battle for bronze. band. Tomorrow, when our Warriors nent’s best football nations, and Burkina But, not even those two defeats could plunge into a titanic contest against Faso had not even won a match at the take away what the Stallions had done for Algeria, it will be exactly a month after showcase with the country losing all their their country and having adopted them the Ndlovu family — who gave us the three matches at their first appearance in as my team, during that tournament, I immortal King Peter, the greatest War1978 to Nigeria (2-4), Zambia (0-2) and felt the incredible bout of pride inside rior of all-time — quietly marked the Ghana (0-3). me that came from getting a front row fourth anniversary of one of their dark
They had to wait another 18 years, until seat to the sights and sounds that rocked est days when Adam perished in that car 1996, for them to make a second appearBurkina Faso that year because of the crash just outside Victoria Falls. ance at the AFCON finals and, just like in exploits of their national football team. For me, tomorrow also marks exactly 1978, they were a mismatch for the oppoAnd, as I said goodbye to scores of six months when I lost the love of my life, sition in South Africa as they again lost friends I had made on that tour of duty, my lovely daughter Mimi, who would all their three group matches to Zambia tears came down, disappointed I was have been 22 in eight days’ time, and I (1-5), Sierra Leone (1-2) and Algeria (1-2). leaving a country that had charmed me should know how the Ndlovus are feel
In six group matches, at theing.AFCONtotheveryendwithitswildone-month finals, they had conceded 18 goals and romantic flirtation with its Stallions, all And, as fate might have it, we taking scored only five. the reservations I had about their dusty on the Desert Foxes at the AFCON finals, a
To say expectations for them to do and chaotic capital when I arrived, hav- team that will forever be associated with
THE STALLIONS WHICH CHARMED NATION WEIGHED DOWN BY COUNTLESS CHALLENGES
he was a retired naval captain who’d fought in the Second World War; I’d just recorded my first album with Genesis, had hair down to my elbows and lived in jeans and a military jacket from Kensington market that smelled like an entire battalion,” Rutherford wrote.
“I was born in 1950 and was 18 months old when Dad went off to the Korean War. I didn’t see him much of him as I grew up — by the time he came home from work I’d be in bed and then I was packed off to prep school at the age of seven.
“My life changed when I married Angie in 1977 and moved to the country to start a family. But a band is a very selfish being and two days after Angie came home from the hospital with our first child, I flew to the Netherlands for three months to work on a new record.
“As time went on, I realised I was following in my Dad’s footsteps; like him I was often away from home and touring the world surrounded by a huge crew, only he had medals and I had gold discs. Then one night in 1986, when I was on tour in America, the phone rang at 3am. Dad Adamski given his goal which helped was dead. us sink the Algerians at our first AFCON “My biggest regret was not telling him finals appearance in Tunisia in 2004. what a wonderful man he’d been in my
On Thursday, as I watched life.”Joel Luphahla, the scorer of the other goal We seem to take a lot of things for against the Algerians, tell the nation — granted, as we go through the motions via the medium of national television of life and we didn’t tell Benjamin Nkon— that we needed to be brave tomorrow jera he was special, we forgot to tell Wilto stand a chance, I could not resist the lard Mashinkila-Khumalo, in his living tears that flooded my eyes, alone in my years, that he was a unique talent and office, as I recalled the events of that day we didn’t tell Francis Shonhayi, when in Sousse on February 3, 2004, when he he lived, he was simply out of this world. combined with Adamski to give us our But we not alone in this, which sounds first win at this level of the game. a very, very foolish excuse to make.
Having had the privilege of a front row The most wonderful gift our Warriseat as a witness to the events in that staors could give to the Ndlovu family, in dium in Sousse, when our boys came particular, a number of our fallen footof age, I couldn’t resist the feeling that I ball heroes who are not with us today, badly miss Adamski and the emotions whom we never told how special they choked me, tears inevitably streamed were in their living years and nation that down my cheeks as I cursed fate, cruel has stuck with this team even when this fate and wondered why it had to happen, team was staggering in the darkness is of all people, to such a Warrior, such a — just like the Stallions in ’98 — to have good guy. a good run in Gabon.
Then, as if on cue, when the ZTV news And, just like the Burkinabe when I was over, I tuned into my favourite VH1 arrived in their country in ’98, we have Classic Channel on DStv, which I usually a lot of regrets, we have suffered a lot of watch on Thursdays and Fridays nights pain in the course of our living years, from my office desk as I go down membut if the Warriors can play as well as ory lane to a time when music was golden the Stallions back in ’98, with both spirit and — BOOM — they were playing the and conviction, I can tell you we will find classic song, “The Living Years”, written the kind of joy we never believed existed. by British rocker Mike Rutherford and And the likes of Adamski, Nkonjera recorded with his band, The Mechanics. and Sandura can finally rest in eternal
And, there I was, singing along to the peace. song’s rich lyrics, “I wasn’t there that TO GOD BE THE GLORY! morning, when my Brother (here read Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Adamski, of course) passed away, I didn’t Khamaldinhooooooooooooooooo! get to tell him, All the things I had to say, I Text Feedback – 0772545199 think I caught his spirit, Later that same WhatsApp Messenger – 0772545199 year, I’m sure I heard his echo, In my Email – firstname.lastname@example.org baby’s new born tears, I just wish I could Skype – sharuko58 have told him in the living years, Say it Chat with me on Facebook, follow loud, say it clear, You can listen as well me on Twitter @Chakariboy, interas you hear, It’s too late when we die, To act with me on Viber or read my admit we don’t see eye to eye.” material in The Southern Times
Two years ago, Rutherford wrote a or on www.sportszone.co.zw. The moving article in the British daily newsauthoritative ZBC weekly television paper, The Guardian, telling the world football magazine programme, how he came to write that classic and Game Plan, is back on air and personal song and what it meant to him. you can interact with me and the
“As a teenager in the late 1960s, the last legendary Charles “CNN” Mabika thing I wanted was to be like my father, every Monday evening.