By Anesu Chakanetsa

RECENTLY, the football fraternity experienced a horrible incident when at least 125 people were killed and dozens more injured in a riot and stampede at an Indonesian football stadium.

The tragedy in the eastern city of Malang has been described as one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters.

Thousands of fans of Arema FC stormed the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium after their team lost 3-2 to Persebaya Surabaya. Officers tried to control the ‘riots’ by firing tear gas, triggering a stampede as panicked fans rushed to an exit gate.

Some suffocated in the chaos while others were trampled to death.

This tragedy should be a lesson and reminder to all locals who foment violence in our stadia around the country.

On a scotching Sunday afternoon in Bulawayo, a section of Highlanders fans invaded the Mpilo end housing FC Platinum supporters and bullied the latter away from the stand.

Premier Soccer League  marshals had to escort the FC Platinum fans to the VIP section as, once again, and certainly not for the last time, Highlanders fans have ignored the ‘no to hooliganism’ call.

Days before the clash, Bosso coach Baltermar Brito made a special plea to the club’s supporters.

The Portuguese mentor, who has transformed Bosso since his arrival in June and earned the respect and admiration of the ever-demanding Amahlolanyama faithfuls, implored supporters to be on their best behaviour when they face Norman Mapeza’s charges.

But his words, just like those of the club leadership on countless occasions, fell on deaf ears.

In May, Highladers fans raided the pitch after an outrageous tackle by Bill Antonio on one Bosso player. 

PSL had to abandon all other matches for two weeks until the fire of violence was quelled. 

But not for Highlanders fans who continue to ply their violence trade.

And the main question remains: ‘Why Highlanders, why Babourfields?’

In 2017, a Highlanders fan, only identified as T.D, wrote a lengthy article on an online blog ‘Culture Sport’ on what really transpires during Highlanders matches and suggested what the club should do.

“Since the early 2000s, there has been several streaks of violence during Highlanders games and it has become more of a norm that goes together with the package of being a Highlanders FC fan. These violent acts have been growing from one season to another without much being done to resolve it.

Despite a new breed of Bosso supporters, the violence still continues. One can be guaranteed that the person who was throwing a missile in the early 2000s is not the same person that was responsible for missile throwing on May 17 2017, hence proving that the culture has been carried over from one generation to the next generation of supporters.

The Club has chosen a stance of distancing itself from the violence and fans who throw missiles onto the field of play. They have been rebuked and labelled as not being ‘genuine’ supporters of the team. However, the questions that come to mind are: How is the team being siphoned by ‘not-genuine’ fans under the administration’s watch?

How does a ‘counterfeit’ supporter get to violently protest for what is not ‘genuinely’ theirs to claim? Whether we like it or not, these violent supporters are associated with the football club and hence remain a thorn in the flesh .

So where is the problem?

The problem lies with the administration’s lack of initiation in taking the bull by its horns. Tactically romanced press releases might save face today but they will eventually run the dictionary dry of words. In our own expression, pointing at a drowning person from a distance will not save that person from losing their life.

What I would suggest:

Very few public relations programmes, if any, have been rolled out by the Club to discourage violence during matches. The Club has failed to go out to the community and address the issue that is at hand. For example Bosso should not be too cool to do road shows in an effort to counter-attack the issue of violence during games. It might prove to be a milestone success and in the process it might help increase the already booming fan base.

The ambassadors of the Club (the players and legends) are there and they can be used to channel the message because they already are in contact with the fans. The Club is dead on social media and mainly survives through accounts that have been opened by loyal supporters. There is need for the administration to have a strong commitment to social media, the team is 91 years old but this is the 21st Century and there is no excuse. Never underestimate the power of social media.

Another important suggestion to consider is having the fans register Charters with the Club. This will help identify who is ‘genuine’ and who is not. The culture and history of the Club is unknown to most young supporters. Please educate them to realise how historically rich the Club is. The young generation is being poisoned by doctrines of hooliganism, there is need for the club to let them know that there is more to a Highlanders match than throwing missiles onto the pitch.”

This information is not only for Highlanders and FC Platinum but for all other teams in the PSL. 

Why not copy from neighbouring South Africa, a country known for violent crimes but has come of age in football violence. 

Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs fans can be seen blowing vuvuzelas side-by-side in a Stadium while watching the great Soweto derby. 

In Zimbabwe, Highlanders fans will not allow any opponent fan in the Soweto Stand, same with Dynamos in the Vietnam Stand.

Let’s not wait until 125 people die in a stadium.

Stop football violence.

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