Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

A journey back to the Devil’s Field, 24 years later

By Robson Sharuko

They all came flooding back – the memories of Accra, the threat of deportation, being dragged to a radio station, to try and force me into an apology, which I flatly rejected.

That was in July 1997.

Accra provided the setting for the compelling drama, Ghanaian authorities were the main actors and a shocking sub-standard training pitch, given to the Warriors, had sparked the sensational fallout.

Okay, let’s first revisit the article, published in this newspaper, on July 11, 1997, which caused the furore and came close to getting me deported from Ghana.

“A rumble in the jungle probably best describes Zimbabwe’s forgettable first training session here for their no-holds-barred African Cup of Nations soccer qualifier against Ghana at the Accra Sports Stadium on Sunday,’’ read the introduction of the report.

“On a small cleared field, in the middle of a dense forest just opposite the University of Ghana, the Warriors found themselves sweating it out at a training session that could easily have passed for a game between ancient tribes, who lived in the forest.

‘’The little bumpy pitch would have qualified, for any name, except a football ground had it not been for the goal posts on either end where goalkeepers could hardly go because of the dense growth behind the posts.

‘’There were no lines to mark where the field started, or ended, and even if the markings had been there before, they must surely have disappeared long ago, under the grass.

‘’The Zimbabwe players did not shoot a single ball, during their two-hour session, afraid that the balls would balloon into the dense bushes and never be seen again.

“Cold comfort for the Warriors is that the small pathetic pitch was probably the best they could get out of the three they had been offered.

“One of the fields had long grass on which the ball could barely move, some dogs could be seen playing near the centre, probably the only place, on the pitch, that was bare.

“Another ground was virtually bare and so hard that it would have been too much of a risk to let the players train on it.

“Zimbabwe coach, Ian Porterfield, was naturally angry and asked team manager, Jimmy Finch, to complain to the Ghana Football Federation for a change in the training ground.

“Porterfield said the quality of the field was affecting his training drills and posed a danger to the players.’’

And, the backlash, from the Ghanaian authorities was as swift, as it was threatening.

“Ghanaian authorities have threatened to get sports reporter, Robson Sharuko, out of the next Harare-bound plane, in protest over an article he wrote in our sister newspaper, The Herald, about the state of a football pitch in Accra where the national soccer team trained last Thursday,’’ reported The Sunday Mail.

“The reporter, in Accra to cover today’s African Cup of Nations qualifier between Zimbabwe and the hosts, for Zimbabwe Newspapers, yesterday said Ghanaian authorities had informed delegation leader, Vincent Pamire, to tell Sharuko to apologise to his hosts ‘within hours’ and retract the story published on Friday.

“Failure to do so would earn him an early exit from Accra, presumably much earlier than the kick-off time of the epic Nations Cup tie.

“Sharuko is sticking by his story, saying it is a fact the condition of the pitch, on which the Zimbabweans conducted their first training session near the University of Ghana, was deplorable.’’

The following day, this newspaper reported, “Sharuko not deported,’’ saying after the refusal, to retract the story, “no drastic action was taken against the reporter who went on to report on Sunday’s match, which Zimbabwe lost 1-2.’’

About a quarter-of-a-century has passed, since that drama exploded, in Accra.

However, it appears, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Who could have imagined that, 24 years later, I would be dealing with controversy, related to the Warriors training on a sub-standard pitch, at home, of all places?

One would have understood if that shocking Raylton Sports Club field, where the Warriors conducted what they are terming a “loosening-up exercise, on Monday, had been offered to the opposition.

But, even if we were part of those countries which sink to those low levels of gamesmanship, trying to use every tactic in the book to try and distract the visiting opponents, taking then to that pathetic pitch at Raylton, would have been sheer madness.

It would have been a shame, no two ways about it, a journey into the darkness for our football and an insult to the values of our hospitality, which we are known for, throughout the world.

It would have been unacceptable because no national football team should ever be exposed to the poor conditions at Raylton, whether be it for just a loosening-up exercise, or a team run of 10 minutes, because they are not meant for this level of the game.

This is a pitch which, nine years ago, Dynamos blamed for the high number of injuries, among their players, with some analysts describing it as the worst training pitch, which was being used by any of the clubs. Who were taking part in the CAF Champions League that year.

And, to make it worse, it’s a pitch that has since deteriorated, from the eyesore that it was, back then.

When one considers all this, it justifies the anger, which exploded on social media platforms, as pictures of the Warriors, using that pitch on Monday, circulated among their fans.

“This is not good,’’ tweeted Henry Fungai Kakopa. “(It’s) taking us back to Stone Age football grounds. Why not use the National Sports Stadium for training?’’

He appeared to speak on behalf of hundreds of other fans, who reacted with outrage, as they battled to convince themselves that, indeed, their Warriors had held a training session, on that shocking pitch.

Others felt this should provide an alibi, for coach Zdravko Logarusic, in the event his team fails to win in Botswana tomorrow, with a sizeable number reminding football writers to remember this farce, rather than pile all the criticism on Loga, should the Warriors fall tomorrow.

For me, it’s like a journey into the past, about a quarter-of-a-century, to be precise, to that day in Accra and all the controversy it torched,

The only difference, really, is never would I ever have imagined, back then, that one day, I would see the Warriors, sweating it out, on a pitch which, while it’s far better than the eyesore of Accra, remains a mockery of what national teams should train on in the new millennium.

Especially, here at home, where they have an endless choice of decent venues, to use as their training ground. The Herald