HAVING been promoted to the Castle Lager Premier Soccer league last season and finishing the season as Mbada Diamond Cup runners-up, How Mine went into the Caf Confederation Cup competition with the hope of writing their own history.
And they did write it! But in the most crucial moment of their dream appearance, things turned sour.
Nigeria’s Bayelsa United FC whom they had beaten 2-1, pulled every trick to try and frustrate the Bulawayo-based team in Sapele where the second round second leg match was played. How Mine chairman Mlondolozi took us through their ordeal in West Africa.
The name of the match commissioner was Andy Gonyadahue Quamie from Liberia and they flew from Lagos to Benin City, a one-hour flight (about) 400km and were driven for an hour in a Toyota Coaster to Sapele where they stayed at Movig Hotel.
The match was played at Sapele Stadium and the referee from Tunisia was Youssef Essrayiri.
“Everything was normal from the time we left Bulawayo. We put up in Johannesburg for the night on Wednesday then proceeded to Lagos on Thursday morning. We arrived there around 1pm.
“Before we left our bookings and itinerary were finalised and we forwarded those to Zifa and pleaded with them to get everything across to the Nigerian Football Association so that when we got there, we would not have to find ourselves stranded.
“When we arrived, there was no sign of anyone who was expecting us. To some extent we had expected the reception would be hostile, so we were ready and no one even among the players panicked.
“We huddled together and said we wait until we saw what transpired. But after about three hours we knew that it was beyond trying to frustrate us, so we had to try and make contact. I spoke to our administrator and asked him to get through to Zifa.
“I was able to get through to Brian Moyo who is the Zifa education officer and he promised me that they would do something. After a few minutes he phoned and said they had managed to talk to the Nigerian Football Association.
“We did not get anything from them until we sought audience from the airport authorities who then directed us to the president’s office and the protocol guys made contact with the guys from the Nigerian Football Association.
“After making contact for the first time with the federation guys they took a further two hours. So technically we were at the airport for about five hours when they came through, they made excuses that Zifa had not contacted them on time — there was a breakdown in communication.
“Instead of flying us out to the place where we were going to have our game, they arranged for us to put up somewhere in Lagos in a makeshift place they called a hotel, but it was something else. So we put up there and we had to fly out of Lagos to the Delta state, a place called Sapele, the following day,” Nkomo said.
Wikipedia says about Sapele: Sapele is a city in Delta state, Nigeria. By the mid-19th Century, Sapele was established as a trading village, occasionally visited by Europeans. In 1891, the British government established a vice-consulate at Sapele. The population grew to 33 638 by 1952, including people from many Nigerian tribes.
Today, the city has one of Nigeria’s major ports. Its industries include the processing of timber, rubber and palm oil, as well as furniture, tamarind balm and footwear manufacturing. As of 1995, its population was 135 800. And as of 2005 to 2006, the population of this advancing city was 142 652. The city is 386km from Lagos, or about 40 minutes by plane.
Nkomo continues: “Things that would qualify as lodges here (Zimbabwe) were said to be the best they could offer and you could tell that these guys were trying to frustrate us all the way, but we were taking it with each stride.
“They arranged that we should have a practice match around about the time that the match would be played that is 4pm — 3pm local time. They gave us transport to the match venue. When we got there these guys (Bayelsa) were still inside so we had to wait for about half an hour while they explained to us that they were winding up their training.
“Then on being given access to the match venue, we discovered that the touch lines were not there and half the pitch had over grown grass and they just cut half the pitch. Their grounds men were cutting the grass while our training session was going on.
“They refused to give us access to the dressing rooms during the practice session as we had no access to water. We had no access to the toilets and we had to go through a two-hour training session under those conditions. When the match commissioner came he just brushed all our concerns aside.
“Initially they told us the match was going to be at 4pm that is the reason why they gave us that slot to train at 4pm and when we got to the pre-match meeting the time for the match had changed to 3pm, but we had no problem because it was the night before the match. We adjusted our programme according to the new time.
“The next morning the match commissioner came in a huff with a Bayelsa official and they took me aside and said the match which was scheduled to take place at 3pm has been moved back to 4pm. They said the temperatures at four would be much more bearable than at three so the match was now at four.
“So we had to move according to that programme, but at 11.50am the match commissioner came back with that Bayelsa delegation with another message. He said there was a mix-up in communication and the match would be played at 3pm. The light training was cancelled. We were supposed to leave for the stadium at half-one. So the police escort came and when everyone was in the minibus, the driver disappeared.
“When we got to the stadium they (Bayelsa officials) were not there and the groundsmen were instructed not to give us access to the ground. We were stuck in the bus until the match commissioner came and they told them to give us access. There was no running water or electricity.
“Everything was normal in the first half until half time (0-0). That is when all hell broke loose. They wanted to prevent the team from getting into the dressing room and I had to stand by the door with the team manager. The team officials were banging the door saying they suspected we were carrying something because they were failing to score.
“When the teams came out for the second-half, the referees did not come through and the Bayelsa team officials and supporters came into the pitch and started pushing players around. We tried to call in the police, but they were mum and we told them that they were assaulting our players and they did nothing.
“We had to go in and try and protect our players, but one guy came in carrying some object and struck Brighton Dube on the head and for a couple of minutes he passed out.
“The moment they were moving out, they realised that one of our officials had a tablet and was recording the whole incident and they forcibly took it and smashed it on the ground. When we told the match commissioner he said he did not see anything.
“We played the game, but you could tell quality of officiating had changed. It was as though they were playing for Bayelsa.
“After the match I talked to match commissioner and told him that we were not treated well. He said he would come to the hotel because it is a norm that he should come and see that everything is well, but up to the time we left we did not see him,” Nkomo recounted.