IT was called the trip of shame — a 600km bus ride which saw the Warriors arrive in Blantyre, Malawi, just hours before their 2017 AFCON qualifier against the Flames.
Callisto Pasuwa, their national team coach back then, provided the enduring image of that bus ride, with his two-in-one blanket, on a bitterly cold June morning in 2015.
In today’s world of social media, the image went viral and, for many, months it was a sign of everything that had gone wrong with our national game.
It reflected the poor planning, which is usually associated with national assignments, by leaders who seemingly had no clue of what it means to occupy their positions of authority.
Cuthbert Dube was the ZIFA president, back then and, after coming into power on the promise he would provide the corporate touch needed, to give this game a new direction, the wheels truly come off.
His mission had clearly failed and his off-shore model of leadership, where he didn’t even care to come and watch the Warriors in action, was being crudely exposed.
The chickens were coming home to roost, the ghosts were tumbling from the closet, and ZIFA — choked by a mountain of debt and saddled by poor leadership — was crumbling.
Sadly, those who had preached the gospel of success, when they were asking to be given the chance to lead the game, had proved to be just another pack of failures.
And, the tragedy was that their frightening shortcomings were also taking our national game, and our flagship national team, down with them.
It was the winter of chaos, the signs were everywhere, Dube and his crew were failing, and there was no hiding place anymore for them with even their spin doctors having long retreated into the shadows.
The centre was struggling to hold, besieged by a number of challenges, and some of the walls were starting to give in, exposing an organisation which was collapsing.
A few days before the road trip, the Warriors, fed up with being given promises which were not being fulfilled, and used as pawns by leaders who didn’t care for their welfare, had boycotted their flight to Malawi.
It was yet another embarrassment for the beleaguered association, in a week that began badly with Pasuwa refusing to start work because he hadn’t been paid, in the past nine months he had been working with the Warriors and Young Warriors.
The Warriors were demanding US$500 each, as match fees and US$50 daily allowances, but the association were not prepared to release that much, citing their poor financial position.
About US$2 200, which had been released by the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Culture to pay for the daily allowances of the players, and their coaching staff, was not handed over to the intended beneficiaries.
In the end, the Warriors were forced to take a road trip to Malawi, arriving in Blantyre just hours before their match against the Flames and, to their credit, the players defied the odds and beat their hosts 2-1 with Khama Billiat scoring the winner.
However, the damage, which this inflicted on Dube’s chaotic leadership, was irreversible and, a few months down the line, the ZIFA Councillors, who included the association’s current leader Felton Kamambo, took the bold step to revoke the mandate of their executive committee.
We thought that was the end of the madness, which we have seen when it comes to the running of our national game, but we were wrong and, this week, five years after the debacle of that road trip, our Warriors found themselves having to face the same predicament.
They were scheduled to take another road trip to Blantyre, this time for a friendly international, against Malawi set for tomorrow.
However, following an outcry, the Warriors are now set to fly to Blantyre aboard a chartered flight today.
ZIFA said they couldn’t be held responsible for the chaos, claiming they only got the clearance for the Warriors to travel to Blantyre late and, by then, it was impossible to get them on a flight to Malawi.
We understand the challenges, when it comes to international travel, which have come with the Covid-19 restrictions, but that doesn’t take away responsibility, from those elected into office to lead national associations like ZIFA, to find the solutions.
Their colleagues at the Football Association of Malawi chartered a plane to take the Flames to Zambia, for a friendly international this week, because they knew the challenges that comes with international travel, at this point in time, and planned accordingly.
The FAM leaders, who have provided the continent with the perfect template, when it comes to how funds injected into associations from FIFA, for Covid-19 relief should be used, for the benefit of the game, didn’t need to put their players through all the chaos which we are seeing here.
That’s all that a country demands from its football leaders.
What we can’t understand is how ZIFA have not been able to appoint a team manager, the man who plays a crucial role, when it comes to assembling a national team.
Does this mean that, in this whole country of more than 15 million people, we don’t have someone good enough to play that role or, as often happens in our football, the recruitment process has been marred by the ugly politics which have destroyed the game? Surely, the nation demands answers and, if we didn’t feel we were prepared for this friendly match, it would have been better not to have tried to play it and, in the process, just embarrass ourselves the way we have done.