AL­MOST TWENTY YEARS LATER, I SIM­PLY JUST CAN’T FOR­GET BURK­INA FASO

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Sport -

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 – rob­sharuko@gmail.com 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.

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