THEY say true Manchester United fans should never see anything good about Liverpool and they are probably right — those vile chants mocking our players who perished in the Munich air crash in 1958 are as toxic as they are sickening.
But we are not saints either because, in our retaliation, we lost the class and the innocence that should always define us when some of us decided that the horror of Hillsborough should form the basis for our below-the-belt chants to mock against Liverpool.
They say our eternal rivals hate us for knocking them off their perch as the most successful English club in the domestic championship and they are right — that a quarter-of-a-century has flown by since their last triumph is the kind of stuff that provokes hatred.
I became a lifelong Falcon Gold fan by birth, because it’s my hometown club, a passionate Warriors fan by nationality, a proud Manchester United fan by choice and a fierce anti-Liverpool disciple by association to my beloved Red Devils.
For the first 23 years of my life, United didn’t win the league championship, and so I can’t be accused as one of those who were lured by the team’s success under Sir Alex Ferguson, given my romance with the club had started in 1977 when I enrolled into Grade One.
So, I understand and appreciate the hostility and abuse that came my way from my fellow Man U fans at the weekend when I dared announce I would be pitching my support, just for 90 minutes, for Liverpool in their Champions League final against Real Madrid.
My workmate Mako Gold Mutimukulu, the good, young, and bright fellow who edits the sports section of our sister newspaper The Sunday Mail, even went to the extent of bluntly accusing me of selling out to football’s version of the devil.
He wasn’t alone among that army of protesters — from around the world — who found faults, and even a certain degree of shame, in my decision to sing in the corner of Liverpool, even just for one-and-half-hours, in the Reds’ Champions League final showdown against Real Madrid.
The fury was intense — how dare you choose to sleep with the enemy, of all teams, they asked, how dare you choose to dine with the devil, they asked, how dare you choose to dance with the biggest of our rivals, they asked, and how dare you sing their anthem, which is the ultimate melody of discord for us?
In that ocean of rebellion from my Man U colleagues I struggled to find an island for both refuge and comfort as the verbal missiles kept flying in my direction, the fury of the bombardment growing in intensity with each passing minute of that game and reaching a crescendo when Liverpool equalised.
Thanks guys for all the abuse you directed at me, you can be rest assured that I never take anything personal, because I never claim purity nor perfection, I accept my weaknesses as a person and rather than be riled by it all, I actually picked a lot of vital lessons from all that drama.
But what we can’t take away from these Liverpool fans, if we are to be honest to ourselves, is that they have a better passion — in terms of expressing love for their football club — than us and when they sing their “You’ll Never Walk Alone’’ anthem, you feel the special attachment that exists between the team and their supporters.
Six years ago, the authoritative Bleacher Report published an article, “World Football: Power Ranking The 25 Most Dedicated Fanbases,’’ and it’s hard to disagree with their report in which they listed Liverpool fans in third place, when it comes to their dedication to their club, with only supporters of Celtic and Barcelona ranked better than them.
“Liverpool fans belt out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ during every home game for the Reds and that club anthem alone provides a good indication of the type of dedication Liverpool fans have,’’ the report said.
“Fan support during home games, especially rivalries and derbies, is extremely good and Liverpool players know the fans have their back. One has to look no further than last year’s events with Luis Suarez for evidence of that.’’
The Barca fans were ranked first, the Celtic supporters in second place while fans of the two Turkish giants, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, took fourth and fifth place and those who have watched football matches in Turkey will probably agree with that.
Fans of Argentine giants Boca Juniors were ranked in fifth place, supporters of Brazilian giants Flamengo were in seventh place while fans of Red Star Belgrade of Yugoslavia, Arsenal and Real Madrid took the eighth, ninth and 10th places in that order.
Manchester United fans were only ranked in 11th place.
We can hate them all we want, and I don’t like Liverpool in any way whatsoever, but what we can’t take away from them is that they have a fan base whose dedication to the club’s cause is simply out of this world and needs to be celebrated rather than despised.
A FAN IS A VERY SPECIAL AND UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL
Charles Mabika says fans are the owners of this game, but I have always argued with him that the players are the real owners of this sport and that’s why they even share an identity with this sport — footballers and football.
My argument has always been that football can always be played without fans, as in the case when errant clubs are forced to play before empty stadiums, but it can never be played without the players.
Twenty two players can gather at a stadium and play football, even without a referee as in some amateur games, but 60 000 fans can never gather at the National Sports Stadium, without the players, and go back home claiming they watched a football game.
That is why the superstars of the game are all footballers — from Pele to Maradona, from Messi to Ronaldo, from Musona to Billiat — and never the fans like Chris Musekiwa, Alvin Zhakata, ZiSupa reGreen Machine, Mupostori or any of those supporters who travelled to Kiev.
That is why the fans like Musekiwa even adopt nicknames from the name of football stars, like Brazilian legend Romario, and never do we have a scenario where the players adopt the names of supporters as their heroes.
And that’s why fans pay to watch footballers in action and we have never had a scenario where footballers pay for the supporters to come and watch them.
But that doesn’t mean fans are not special in this game because football, without the sights and sounds from the terraces, will not be the same, will not have the kind of beauty that it parades.
And there will be a kind of an emptiness to the whole show, a kind of lifelessness to the game, a kind of soundless to the sport, a kind of colourless to the game, it will lose a huge chunk of its beauty and a big part of its glamour.
Dynamos, without their millions of fans, are just another capital version of Nichrut or Karoi United, Highlanders, without the millions of their supporters, are just another City Of Kings version of Quelaton or Ntabazinduna while CAPS United, without their fans, are just another green-and-white version of Golden Valley or Chegutu Pirates.
But it’s a fact that, even without one fan, Dynamos, Highlanders or CAPS United will still exist as football clubs as long as they have their players and they can continue to play their matches.
The supporters cannot have an identity either as Dynamos or Highlanders fans without the players who, week in and week out, battle it out for the cause of these clubs.
However, if there is a great quality that makes fans more special than players, when it comes to football, then it has to be their intense loyalty to the clubs which they support.
While players can be traded like goods, even playing for opponents who represent the ultimate enemy to the club they used to play for, you don’t usually see genuine football fans changing bases and switching allegiance during their lifetime.
We have seen a number of players crossing what used to be the Great Divide like Paul Ince ending up at Liverpool when he used to be a star at Manchester United and Michael Owen ending up going the opposite direction from Anfield to Old Trafford.
Or Carlos Tevez revelling in his move from Old Trafford to the Etihad, they even put up a billboard of him smiling which read
“Welcome To Manchester” in what was a dig at United that City are the club that fully represents the interests of the residents of this town.
Closer to home, we have seen it with all the moves across the walls that divide Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United we now even have players like Stewart Murisa and Roderick Mutuma having played for all the Big Three clubs of domestic football and everything looks normal in its abnormality.
That never happens among the true football fans who stick with their clubs in good and bad times, who believe that supporting their team is just a part of their life and, for some die-hards or ultras, a reason for living.
And where footballers even get paid a significant fortune for representing the cause of these teams, the supporters actually spend a fortune supporting these clubs.
That is why, even when you dare find a small reason to support, just for an hour-and-half, the cause of a club that is a symbol of the ultimate rival, as I did last Saturday night in backing Liverpool in the Champions League final, it provokes a fierce backlash from your counterparts.
Don’t be fooled by all that acting, disguised as respect, when some players choose not to celebrate on the occasion they score against the club they used to play for because deep down in their hearts the adrenaline would be pumping and they would be exploding in celebrations you will never see.
AS POLITICS DIVIDE US, THE BOYS THAT UNITE US ARE BACK IN ACTION
As the temperatures start to rise, stoked by the toxicity of the politics that deeply divide us every time an election season comes along, it’s refreshing that the team that unites us, even in all this madness, is back in action.
The Warriors plunge into action tomorrow to start the defence of their COSAFA Cup crown and hoping to extend their record winning haul in this tournament.
Of course, given our fascination with negativity, there are some dissenting voices and they have been bombarding social media sites with their venom with some choosing to focus on why the team took a bus trip to Polokwane, rather than fly there.
Others have chosen to concentrate on bashing the team for being led by a coach they say is an old-fashioned gaffer, who has long been left behind by the changes that have been sweeping across the game, in a period in which he has remained trapped in the past.
Others have been saying we have a technical team that is a collection of failures as can be seen in how all the three main men in that group — Sunday Chidzambwa, Lloyd Mutasa and Rahman Gumbo — have run into trouble at the local clubs they were, and have been in charge of, in the past six months. Some have picked on Mhofu’s decision to call our regular players, who usually only come for the AFCON and World Cup qualifiers, for this COSAFA Cup as a sign of both weakness and cowardice on the part of the coach.
They have been saying that even if we were to win this tournament, it won’t have that great feeling that should come with such success stories because, they claim, we are going to play inferior opposition and our triumph would be a fantasy.
That Mhofu has been arguing that his mission is about using this tournament as a training platform for his men, who usually don’t get a chance to play together ahead of the AFCON qualifiers, and who might not get another chance this year before we play Congo-Brazzaville in September because of the World Cup finals, has meant nothing to these people.
That even Khama Billiat has come out to say he is in full support of Mhofu’s decision to use COSAFA as a training platform for them has not appealed to this vicious group of people who only see evil, hear evil and speak evil about this country.
The people who believe that any success story for the Warriors, and the joy it provokes among millions of Zimbabweans, defeats their agenda to see only gloom prevailing in this country to enhance their interests, whatever they are.
Maybe it’s political, because they don’t like the political affiliation of those who lead this game, or maybe it’s just that they don’t like to hear anything positive, any good story, coming from this country.
That football should unite us, for all our different political persuasions, which is probably best seen in the family of the ZIFA vice-president Omega Sibanda where he is ZANU-PF and his younger brother Ezra is MDC-T, is somehow lost in the mist of their anger and hatred of anything positive emerging out of this country.
Even when these Warriors won this same tournament last year, the majority of these people dismissed it as a fantasy achievement because they claimed there was no reason to celebrate success, in their argument, in what was a developmental tournament. But, the good thing is that the world is leaving them behind in their pool of negativity, and somehow their blinkers won’t make them see that even the Americans are now having direct talks with the North Koreans.
That even our Kenyan brothers, who for years now have been crippled by the toxicity of politics, which even resulted in thousands of people being killed, have found a way to reach out to each other for the good of their country rather than keep marching in the darkness of negativity.
“We have campaigned against one another. We have said nasty things about one another. We have hurt one another,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta tweeted on Thursday.
“On my behalf, I ask for your forgiveness and tender my apology.”
We have a beautiful country, a competitive national football team, but of course, too often we don’t realise what we have until it’s gone it’s gone and, too often, we let the most foolish things tear us apart.