Sharuko on Saturday
ERIC CLAPTON will turn 75, just a day after the scheduled 2021 AFCON qualifier between the Warriors and the Desert Foxes, that is if it goes ahead as scheduled, on the neutral fields of Johannesburg.
After a music career that started in 1963, the year Dynamos were formed, Clapton has sold over 100 million records worldwide and has been inducted three times into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On March 20, 1991, Clapton’s life was plunged into turmoil when his four-year-old son, Conor, fell to his death after plunging from the 53rd floor window of the apartment of his mother’s friend in New York.
Consumed by the grief that followed this tragedy, Clapton turned to what he knows best, to try and find some healing, and wrote one of the finest songs of all-time, “Tears In Heaven.’’
I have been thinking about that song, in recent days, after news filtered through on Monday that ZIFA had decided to take the Warriors’ 2021 AFCON qualifier, against the Desert Foxes of Algeria, to the neutral fields of Orlando Stadium in Soweto.
Well, this year marks 20 years since 13 fans were killed at the National Sports Stadium.
As if by some coincidence, the Warriors are set to play their next AFCON qualifier in South Africa, the very country whose national football team, Bafana Bafana, were the opponents when mayhem broke out on that horror afternoon.
And, as I usually do on these pages, I have just juggled some of the words to fit my intentions and, where Clapton sings about the loss of his four-year-old boy, in “Tears In Heaven,’’ I mourn those 13 football fans who perished on July 9, 2000.
“Would we know their names
If we saw them in heaven?
Would it be the same
If we saw them in heaven?
“We must be strong
And carry on
‘Cause we know, we don’t belong
Here in heaven
“Would we hold their hands
If we saw them in heaven?
Would we help them stand
If we saw them in heaven?
“We’ll find our way
Through night and day
Cause we know we just can’t stay
Here in heaven
“Time can bring us down
Time can bend our knees
Time can break our hearts
Have them begging please, begging please.’’
At Marondera’s Paradise Park cemetery lies the grave of the enduring symbol of that disaster, Alec Dean Fidesi.
He was only a boy of six, just two years older than Clapton’s son, when he met his death — the youngest of the 13 who went to the National Sports Stadium that day but never came back home to tell their stories.
“I carried my dead son in the confusion at the stadium, thinking he had just run short of fresh air but would recover,’’ his namesake father, Alec, told mourners during that burial ceremony.
“Little did I know that he was dead.”
His football romance had already seen him choose his favourite local team, Dynamos, and that image of him with his DeMbare flag, so full of life, so drowned in innocence, has always remained with the Glamour Boys supporters of that era.
He was just four when they came within just 90 minutes of being champions of Africa in 1998, which would probably have been world football’s greatest ever story, considering their limited resources.
And, just two years later, he was dead.
TWENTY YEARS LATER, WE SEEM TO HAVE FORGOTTEN A RIVALRY THAT ENDED IN TRAGEDY
This year marks 20 years after that tragedy and whether there will be commemorations, to remember the heroes we lost that day, given we are a people who seemingly forget as time drifts away, only time will tell.
But, what I can’t understand, as someone who watched that disaster unfold from a ringside seat, and who has worked hard to keep the memory of those heroes alive, is how we have let that fiery rivalry — so intense that just 20 years ago it ended in disaster — melt into such a friendly relationship?
Where, against all the dictates of conventional wisdom, we even can choose to play our AFCON qualifier in the spiritual home of South African football?
Orlando Stadium, the very stadium whose name will always be written on the first page of the book of the history of South African football, is not just an ordinary ground.
It is a grand cathedral that presented a stage, for some of the country’s finest football stars, to showcase their talent into immortality.
Somehow, it became the one we wanted to adopt, as a temporary home for our Warriors, as if we didn’t know what it represents.
The very stadium where Steve “Kalamazoo’’ Mokone, the first black South African star to play professional football in England, after arriving there in 1955, used as his base to launch a career that would see him becoming one of the few players, back then, to earn £10 000 per year.
The very stadium where Patrick “Ace’’ Ntsoelengoe, widely regarded as the greatest Kaizer Chiefs star of all-time, used to come back home every year, at the end of the season in the United States, to showcase his amazing skills.
The very stadium where Jomo Sono, who lived just a kilometre away, would transform into his theatre of dreams, in the colours of Orlando Pirates, including leading the Buccaneers to a 5-3 first leg win over Dynamos, in the first leg of the Southern Africa Club Championship final in 1976.
Of course, we all know now, that great Glamour Boys side, inspired by George Shaya at his very best, overturned that deficit on that rain-swept day at Rufaro, in the second leg of the battle, to win 4-1 and 7-6 on aggregate.
And, that’s the stadium, for one obscure reason or another, which we had chosen to be our adopted home, for an AFCON qualifier, as if we have no recollection of what it represents, in terms of our bitter rivalry with Bafana Bafana, which — one dark day at the stadium we call home — triggered a tragedy.
WHAT WILL WE TELL HIM IN THE EVENT WE MEET IN HEAVEN?
It’s like the Nazis, choosing St Petersburg, the Russian city that refused to yield to their murderous rampage in what was a crucial turning point in World War II, as the venue to celebrate Hitler’s coming to power and the evil which that ascendancy inflicted on the world.
It’s like the turkeys choosing Christmas, of all days, as the perfect time to celebrate their relationship with mankind when this is the very time when they are slaughtered, in large numbers, for the feasts held during this period.
It’s like England choosing to play their home game in Buenos Aires’ Estadio Monumental, despite all the rivalry that exists between the two nations when it comes to football, and the enduring pain which will always be inflicted by Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God’’ goal.
Surely, what will we tell Alec Dean Fidesi, in the event we meet him again in heaven?
That once upon a time we betrayed his soul, and sacrifice, by trying to take his beloved Warriors into the very heart of Bafana Bafana, for a match in which we were the hosts?
What will we tell him, if he asks us, dripping with tears in heaven, what happened to our great football rivalry with Bafana Bafana which, at the turn of the millennium, was something people even died for, given he is an example of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice?
What will we tell him, if he asks us, his face covered with his tears in heaven, how we turned what was such an intense rivalry into such a sweetheart romance we now even had the temerity of borrowing their spiritual football home, even for a day and a match, to host our AFCON qualifier?
What will we tell him, if he asks us, his voice choking with the emotion of someone we betrayed, how we had found it comfortable to use South African football’s spiritual home, for our match, when we raised him with the message Bafana Bafana represented the ultimate opponents for us?
What will we tell him, if he asks us, his face an expression of disbelief, if — during our attempted conversion of Orlando Stadium into our adopted home ground — we met Delron Buckley, the man whose foolish decision to try and tease the home fans, after scoring Bafana Bafana’s second goal, sparked all the pandemonium?
Questions like, did we finally made peace with Delron, did we have a beer with him at a shebeen along Vilakazi Street, did we talk about the events of July 9, 2000, did we forgive him and did we tell the former Bafana Bafana striker the truth, and made him cry, which is better than telling him a lie, and making him smile?
If he asks us what has happened to our pride, in the past 20 years, given that back in 2000, Bafana Bafana arrived here having won the AFCON title in 1996, finished second two years later and qualified for the World Cup in France in 1998?
The Warriors were still eyeing a first appearance at the Nations Cup finals?
If he tells us that, despite all that gulf in achievements, his generation of Warriors’ fans still believed their team could win and, for many of them, a two-goal deficit, coupled with some teasing from the goal-scorer, was just too much to take in.
If he ask us why, of all the years, we wanted to rent Bafana Bafana’s spiritual home in the year that marks the 20th anniversary of the disaster that took all those lives, as if to give an impression that what happened in 2000 doesn’t mean a thing to us anymore?
The same Bafana Bafana, whom we have to play in the World Cup qualifiers later this year, how will we handle all the mockery that will come from their fans, when they taunt us to always remember the day they gave us a home, to play our AFCON qualifier?
I don’t know how we will deal with this one but it just doesn’t feel alright, anyone else but Bafana Bafana and Chipolopolo, would have been acceptable.
Because, on days like these, preserving our dignity, and keeping alive our eternal rivalry on the pitch, is more important than the dollars and cents that would be picked, or lost, from the gate receipts.
How could we forget that, when it comes to the football rivalry between us and Bafana Bafana, there are still some tears flowing in heaven after that tragedy of 20 years ago?
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bruno, Bruno, Bruno, Bruno, Bruno, Bruno!
You can also interact with me on Twitter — @Chakariboy, Facebook, Instagram — sharukor and every Wednesday night, at 9.45pm, when I join the legendary Charles “CNN’’ Mabika and producer Craig “Master Craig’’ Katsande on the ZBC television magazine programme, “Game Plan”.