A new fortress called Baobab

It’s a stadium that astoundingly took six months to construct two years ago.

BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE

Local football giants Dynamos, Highlanders, FC Platinum and Chicken Inn have visited the small, neat and compact 10 000-seater arena that embellishes Mhondoro-Ngezi’s Turf Village and have been put to the sword.

This is a village that has evolved from a cattle ranch compound during the colonial era to a miners’ settlement and lately, a football fortress.

Only CAPS United remain unscathed at the Baobab.

One would have to go back to August 13, 2016 to account for Ngezi Platinum’s last home defeat at Baobab Stadium.

That was a 2-0 loss to the now-defunct How Mine in the club’s debut season.

Since then, the astonishing home record reads 30 matches – 22 wins – 8 draws and no defeats going into yesterday’s match against Harare City.

All in all, Ngezi have played 39 matches at their “new” home ground and have won 26 and lost four while the rest are draws.

Surely, it must be a record in local football but in a country where records lack proper documentation and authenticity, this feat could be relegated to bar debate.

Stories have been told on how Ngezi Platinum have employed hook and crook, in some cases been accused of using juju and getting favours from match officials to build such a reputation.

But what has been the subject of debate is the fact that Ngezi Platinum always water their pitch before matches and a number of coaches have complained.

“I have nothing against Ngezi, but I think that the powers-that-be should actually take this issue seriously and consider that these [players] are human beings that play football,” said Highlanders coach Madinda Ndlovu in a post-match interview after his team’s one-nil loss to the platinum miners at Baobab last month.

“We want to play football in an equal and well-conditioned pitch.

“It’s not a bad pitch, it’s a good pitch, but why do you waterlog it? The problem is you end up not giving the best that you can in such conditions.”

However, Ngezi coach Tonderayi Ndiraya views this differently.

“We water our pitch and we make no apology for that. Player have to play in soft pitches and every reasonable coach and serious professional football institutions should know the benefit it has to the players who are subjected to hard and bumpy surfaces,” he said.

Most clubs have failed to prepare well for the Baobab wet pitch and in the end, they have failed to adapt to the conditions. There has been a lot of injury-inspired substitutions owing to the slippery conditions and lack of proper boots.

Baobab has somewhat been turned into a theatre of dreams for Ngezi fans and was the venue when the club won the 2016 Chibuku Super Cup after beating fellow miners FC Platinum for the first piece of silverware in their debut season.

Many will not forget the chaos that ensued at Baobab when the miners grabbed an optional time draw in a match against CAPS United last year.

Makepekepe players and staff mobbed the match officials in a protest at a “ghost” last-minute goal that saved the home team the blushes.

Then, there was more chaos at the same venue when Ngezi played Dynamos in October last year.

A ball boy, who appeared like a grown-up man, accused of being the Ngezi juju man, threw the ball into the empty nets twice before Ngezi grabbed the opener and interestingly they went on to win the match by two goals.

Incensed Dynamos fans wanted to mete out instant justice on the “juju man” resulting in a pitch invasion and a lengthy stoppage.

Last week, Bulawayo City claimed there was a seemingly roasted piece of meat wrapped around with strange-looking strings in their dugout before the match.

One fan who spoke to Standardsport last week added to the mystery surrounding Ngezi’s solid home performance and unbeaten run.

“The club allows this particular group of elderly folk free access to the stadium. These are the owners of the land and the club so the team cannot lose as long as they are there. It’s not like they love football that much, but they are there to make sure the team does not lose,” he said.

“Have you noticed something, every time when ‘Zifa’ [the fans who get in for free late in the match] is let in? the home team scores. Do you think it’s normal football? People don’t know it, but the club has a strong belief in juju and that is what is propelling the team.”

However, Ndiraya rubbished the talk about juju and favours from match officials.

“We have the best offensive and defensive statistics so far. Are the match officials scoring and defending for us? I guess not. We respect people’s opinions, but they must also appreciate and acknowledge good works done by others, the same way we appreciate the good works done by other teams,” he said.

“We do our work professionally here. If people think success is acquired through the use of juju, then they are still in the Stone Age era. They must quickly wake up from their deep slumber. We have applied key success factors religiously and that’s what has taken us this far,” Ndiraya said.

“I must be honest that we have a strong team and I am happy with the amount of effort they [the players] put at home. They just have that feeling that they don’t want to lose at home and they are doing the best they can to maintain that record.”

In spite of all the talk, Ndiraya and his troops have done well to write their own piece of history, for the club as well as the Mhondoro-Ngezi community.
The club also leads the race for the 2018 Premier Soccer League championship. Meanwhile, Baobab Stadium seems likely to remain a slaughter house for visiting teams.

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