When soccer fans fight, the game suffers

TEMBO Benedict.

IF WARRING soccer fans were elephants, definitely the grass would suffer, however, the same could be said of the rise in hooliganism at stadiums

during the game of football nowadays.
The game of football has in recent years suffered at the hands of hooligans, negating the gains Zambia has made in developing the game in the country.
Last Saturday, there were ugly scenes of violence at Nchanga Stadium in Chingola and Nkana Stadium in Kitwe.
In Chingola, Konkola Blades supporters were at the mercy of Nchanga Rangers hooligans while in Kitwe, Nkana ruffians feasted on travelling Mufulira Wanderers fans.
At Nkana Stadium, hell broke loose a few minutes to go before end of the game as ‘Mighty’ fans sang their song directed at Nkana stating although their team was trailing 2-0, the defeat was inconsequential. Soon after Wanderers scored their only goal, Nkana supporters threw stones and bottles at ‘Mighty’ fans, injuring some of them.
The weekend violence is shocking given the efforts made in the recent past to promote unity among supporters’ clubs, especially on the Copperbelt.
Fans associations of different clubs have been more innovative in the fight against hooliganism.
They came up with a bi-annual supporters’ tournament which is held in Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces on a rotational basis.
This is meant to sensitise fans against acts of hooliganism.
Former Wanderers supporters society national chairperson Wesley Mutembo says the fight cannot be entirely successful if left to fans alone.
Mutembo feels FAZ and clubs need to partner with the supporters associations in this crusade.
“Clubs need to play their part to allocate sitting areas for visiting fans and provide security. FAZ should institute strong penalties such as docking of points to erring teams. This will send a strong signal to all. As supporters associations, we also need to engage the known notorious groups in our stadiums to sensitise them on this vice,” Mutembo says.
All stadiums have sections called pakansele (designated sections of stadiums where notorious home supporters seat. They smoke weed openly and hurl insults throughout the game).
At Shinde Stadium in Mufulira, the pakansele is situated behind the western goal post.
At Chilata, Nkana’s stadium, it is situated opposite the VIP stand.
Clubs need to identify and to work with those notorious groups to avert ugly scenes of violence.
While Nkana fans have traditionally or historically been known for hooliganism, what happened at Nchanga Stadium on Saturday during the match between Rangers and Blades was an isolated incident.
Rangers’ supporters have never been known to be violent and the violent behaviour by home fans was surprising.
What is surprising is that Rangers and Blades, both sponsored by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), are sister clubs and the fans of both clubs are expected to behave as such.
It is very disappointing, therefore, that Rangers fans would rise against their brothermen from Chililabombwe in a Cain and Abel like attack in that manner.
A youth wearing a Blades replica jersey who was selling drinks was invaded by a group of Rangers fans who grabbed drinks from him and refused to pay.
According to the Nchanga Rangers Supporters Trust, Rangers followers beat the owner of the drinks and when fellow Blades supporters attempted to intervene, bottles flew in from the direction where the home fans were to the crowded Blades section, which included women and children.
The visiting fans scampered in all directions and a good number of them were badly injured.
They all had to run for their dear lives, looking for the exit gate.
One of the Rangers unruly fans in the VIP threw a beer bottle into the playing field which almost hit a Blades player.
According to Rangers supporters who were on the scene, confusion rocked the ambience VIP section as supporters engaged in a fight.
On the pitch, there was an infringement between a Blades player and a Rangers defender.
The referee intervened by sending off both players with red cards but as the Blades’ player left the pitch, drama again arose as the Rangers player followed his opponent, who had already left the pitch.
The named Rangers’ player went for the Blades player’s neck without success.
A member of the Blades’ technical bench intervened by holding back the Rangers player while a police officer escorted the player to the dressing room but was almost punched.
So uncompromising was the Rangers’ player as he shoved off the fourth official, who tried to calm him down.
Members of the trust debated the behaviour of their colleagues widely and showed remorse.
True to the fears of the Rangers Trust, if fans continue behaving like that, our beautiful game will be tarnished.
Rangers should help the police in identifying the unruly supporters so that they do not scare away fans from patronising Nchanga Stadium.
I hope that match officials (referees and match commissioner) noted those incidents at Nchanga and Nkana so that FAZ can take action against the unruly fans by banning the clubs whose supporters misbehaved from playing at home until the end of the season.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.

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