Derby time in Harare
The 51st edition of the Harare Derby ‘ the glamour football tie on the Zimbabwean calendar ‘ explodes into life at Rufaro Stadium in the steamy high-density suburb of Mbare just outside the city centre. A capacity crowd of about 40 000 fans is expected to converge at Rufaro to witness the latest clash between the two biggest football clubs in this city. The showdown, always one of the highlights of the country’s football programme, has come early this season with the two giants meeting in the third week of the programme. Dynamos, the biggest football club in the country, have been attracting huge crowds to their matches since the season opened three weeks ago. CAPS United ‘ the defending champions ‘ have a fair support base in the capital and go into the match bubbling with confidence after winning their first two matches of the season. Dynamos have not won the league championship in nine years ‘ the longest barren run in the club’s otherwise proud 43-year history ‘ and their fans believe that this could be the year when they end their long wait. Last year the club narrowly avoided relegation but they have changed their playing personnel and introduced a 20-year-old striker ‘ Evans Gwekwerere ‘ who is hogging all the limelight in the championship race so far. An orphan who grew up under the care of his relatives in Mbare, Gwekwerere is a Zimbabwe youth international who has overnight become the toast of Dynamos after his move to the Glamour Boys in the off-season. He has scored twice in two matches, has had two goals disallowed in controversial circumstances and has missed a penalty in 180 minutes of incredible drama. And the Dynamos fans have simply gone crazy about him. Gwekwerere is on loan until July when he is scheduled to move to Swaziland for another short loan spell. His manager Douglas Tanyanyiwa, who owns Division One side Douglas Warriors, believes his player will soon break into the European football scene soon. “Evans is an exceptional player who has always shown a lot of promise and we always believed that he will be a big star one day and we are happy that he is now in the limelight. “The challenge really is for him to keep his feet on the ground instead of being blown away by all this media buzz and he will certainly go places. “He has had a great start but the task now is for him to maintain that or be a better player,” said Tanyanyiwa, a Harare businessman. Premiership officials believe that there will about 50 000 fans at Rufaro this afternoon and have been urging the supporters to come earlier that is usually the case. “We are appealing to all the supporters to come to the stadium early so that we don’t get the kind of congestion that we have been seeing in recent weeks. “This habit of coming to the ground at 2pm must come to an end, at least for this match, because we intend to close all entry points by then,” said PSL fixture-secretary Godfrey Japajapa. Zimbabwean football fans have a sickening habit of coming to football matches just an hour before kick-off. Some of the blame has been piled on the league’s management committee as usually there is no entertainment at the stadiums before the big match. Last week thousands of fans failed to enter into Rufaro because of congestion at the gates during the league match between Dynamos and Black Rhinos. There were calls in Zimbabwe last week for the match to be moved to the spacious National Sports Stadium which can accommodate 60 000 fans. But Dynamos officials want to have their home ground advantage and argue that playing at the giant stadium ‘ which is the home ground of CAPS United ‘ would not be ideal for them. Dynamos/CAPS United matches at Rufaro have been marred by crowd trouble in the past. And football leaders around the region will be praying that the latest episode of the Harare Derby does not degenerate into violence. For April has never been a good month for football and this part of the world. It will not be lost to the football community in South Africa that the latest edition of the Harare Derby is coming just two days before the commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the Ellis Park Disaster. On April 11 2001, disaster struck in South African football before a match featuring the Soweto rivals Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. The two teams have a rivalry that can be equated to the one between Dynamos and CAPS United. Forty-three fans perished and scores were injured at Ellis Park. They were not only South Africans but some were from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho. The youngest 11-year-old schoolboy Rosswin Nation who was buried along with his uncle Calvin Arnolds. They were both supporters of Orlando Pirates. The sight of scores of school children from Mid Ennerdale Primary, the school Rosswin attended, lining the street outside the church to bid him farewell touched the entire global football community. The Ellis Park tragedy was caused by a stampede as fans poured into the stadium, which was already full to capacity, to watch the match. Twenty-nine people died inside the stadium and a further 14 died outside the ground. Zambians still remember that dark day in April when a generation of some of their finest football players perished off the coast of Gabon. In the early hours of April 29 1993, 30 people died, 18 of them players in the national team, when the Zambian Air Force plane they were in crashed into the sea off the coast of Gabon. Chipolopolo were travelling to Senegal for a World Cup qualifier. The tragedy cut down a generation of extremely talented players, and sent a whole nation into mourning. The scars of that disaster have not yet healed and Zambian football has not yet recovered from that setback. Zimbabweans, too, have been hit by a football related disaster as six years ago there was a stampede at the National Sports Stadium during a World Cup qualifier that left 13 fans dead. All these memories are still fresh in the minds of the football communities of this part of the world and that is why the elders will be praying that, at the end of the day, football will triumph in the latest Harare Derby. “We have been lucky in that the worst of the violence at the stadiums in this country has not resulted in any deaths. “But our biggest challenge is to ensure that there is order at the stadiums when we have big matches and that should be the case at Rufaro on Sunday,” said Japajapa. For now everyone can just wait for the big match this afternoon which will draw a lot of interest around the globe where Zimbabweans are based. CAPS United have dominated the derby in the past two seasons on their way to the league championship. The champions have shown a lot of resilience to remain very competitive despite losing a lot of key players to Europe in the last few months. They have also bounced back admirably from their disqualification from the African Champions League for fielding ineligible players during their match against Inter Stars of Burundi. CAPS United fans believe that their side, which is beginning to gel into a unit, will again prove too strong for DeMbare. In their last encounter at the same stadium last year, CAPS United came from a goal down ‘ falling to an early strike from Clive Mwale ‘ to beat Dynamos 2-1. Now they meet again and Harare can hardly wait for the big showdown.