Spare a thought for Warriors fans. The last time they were allowed in a stadium in Zimbabwe to watch the country’s senior men’s national soccer team, was on the 15th of November 2019.
They braved the rains in Harare to watch their beloved Warriors take on the Zebras of Botswana in an Afcon 2019 qualifier at the National Sports Stadium.
Marvelous Nakamba’s parents were part of the decent crowd at the giant facility to watch the Warriors, in the midfield enforcer’s first appearance for his country since he swapped the blue and black strip of Club Brugge, for the claret and blue of Aston Villa.
Of course, the Warriors, then under the tutelage of Joey ‘Mafero’ Antipas, fired blanks under the floodlights but there was something about the way Nakamba conducted himself in the middle of the park that evening.
He was brilliant, particularly after the introduction of Kuda Mahachi and their well-documented friendship was even witnessed on the pitch. They combined well and took turns to make deft touches, to the delight of Warriors fans.
Nakamba and Mahachi, despite their history together, are no longer on talking terms but that is a story for another day.
The story for today is that the Botswana game, which ended goalless, was the last Warriors game played in front of fans in a stadium in Zimbabwe.
Then came Covid-19.
After the novel virus’ restrictions were relaxed, CAF never allowed fans in stadiums for international matches in Zimbabwe, because of the bucket seats issue.
Warriors fans watched helplessly as other nations slowly adjusted to the global pandemic and made sure fans returned to stadiums to watch the beautiful game.
The four Warriors home games played in Zimbabwe in the Covid-era — the Afcon qualifiers against Algeria and Zambia, and the World Cup qualifiers against South Africa, Ghana and Ethiopia, were all played behind closed doors.
The Ethiopia clash was the last Warriors game played in Zimbabwe and the last time fans saw Khama Billiat in the gold and green strip.
The nimble-footed winger has since retired from international football and so has his friend and influential captain Knowledge Musona.
Warriors fans never had the chance to say good to the talismanic duo.
As if not being able to watch the national team at home was not enough, another setback hit Zimbabwean football — the Fifa suspension.
The world governing body suspended Zimbabwe for ‘third party interference’ in the running of the game after the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) decided to suspend the Felton Kamambo-led Zifa executive.
That has resulted in Zimbabwe being disqualified from the Afcon 2023 qualifiers and the Warriors will miss out on the continental extravaganza for the first time since 2017.
“As a consequence of having failed to have their suspensions by FIFA set aside, CAF has confirmed that both Kenya and Zimbabwe will not participate in the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations Cote d’Ivoire 2023 qualifiers,” announced CAF on May 23.
The football-loving public watched involuntarily as the road to Côte d’Ivoire began without the Warriors participating.
Good heavens! Warriors fans have suffered.