Sharuko On Saturday
IT was the ultimate fantasy road trip, using his vintage 1936 Lanz Bulldog tractor, towing his makeshift house on wheels, across four countries, on a World Cup adventure to Russia.
The tractor, decorated with World Cup symbols, and a sign that screamed ‘’Hello Moscow,’’ could only hit a top speed of 30km per hour, which meant it needed a month to reach the Russian capital.
Hubert Wirth, who undertook that trip from his home, in Pforzheim, near Stuttgart, in south-western Germany, to Moscow, was a 70-year-old retired pensioner, when he embarked on his fairytale adventure.
And, for good measure, he took his dog, Hexe, along for the joy ride.
Around 1,5 million tourists are expected to visit Russia during the World Cup, with one million of those set for Moscow alone, but none of them will have a journey quite like that of one German fan and his loyal dog.
His 2 500km trip first took him into Poland, then Belarus and right into the heart of Russia, which was hosting the World Cup, for the first time.
Wirth arrived in Moscow to a media blitz, on June 14, 2018, three days before his team, Germany, got the defence of their World Cup title, underway with a date against Mexico.
This was the world in union, sport once again demonstrating its power, to unite the globe.
And, a World Cup in Russia, with the Germans — including a tractor-diving super fan — arriving as the champions, could not have provided a better script for a globe, desperate to move on, from the atrocities of its past.
None bigger than the horror of World War II, when about 85 million people, representing three percent of the then world population of about 2,3 billion people, perished, during mankind’s darkest hour.
And, nowhere was this global conflict, as deadly as the battle between Germany and the Soviet Union which, ultimately, the good men of the Red Army won and helped to save the world, from being transformed into a Nazi playground.
British historian and journalist, Max Hastings, in his book ‘’Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945,’’ highlights that the Red Army was “the main engine of Nazism’s destruction.
“It was the Western Allies’ extreme good fortune that the Russians, and not themselves, paid almost the entire ‘butcher’s bill’ for (defeating Nazi Germany), accepting 95 per cent of the military casualties of the three major powers of the Grand Alliance.”
That is, at least, 20 million Soviet citizens, according to official Government figures, who paid the supreme price, in a heroic defence of their motherland and, in the process, taking the war back to Berlin, and the eventual defeat of Hitler and his Nazis.
Somehow, as fate would have it, Wirth arrived in Moscow, on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the “Battle of Kursk,’’ which exploded on July 5, 1943, when the Germans launched Operation Citadel.
It’s widely acknowledged as the greatest tank battle, in the history of military conflict, and proved a turning point, in World War II.
With the German 6th Army having been destroyed, in the Battle of Stalingrad, which at times was as close to apocalypse as men has dragged each other, Hitler believed an offensive on Kursk, about 460kms from Moscow, would boost his troops’ morale.
What followed was a battleground of about 8 000 tanks, representing the world’s largest armoured conflict and by the time the Red Army pushed the Germans back, in a grand victory that was as symbolic as it was strategic, an estimated one million people lay dead.
And, some of the books, which have been written about that conflict, “The Gates of Hell,’’ and “Hell on Earth 1943: The German Wehrmacht versus the Red Army,’’ provide a graphic reminder, of how this conflict dragged mankind, to the edges of self-destruction.
Time, though, is a healer.
And, 75 years on, a retired 70-year-old German, was now receiving widespread positive media coverage, in the Russian media, after rolling into Moscow, on his 1936 vintage tractor, to be part of the 2018 World Cup show.
The same streets where, in the summer of 1944, about 60 000 prisoners of war, from his country, who included 19 generals, were paraded by Soviet authorities, in the ‘’Parade of the Vanquished.’’
Had FIFA not changed their initial decision, to make use of the refurbished Dynamo Stadium, in Moscow, as one of the central venues of the World Cup, it’s possible Wirth would have would have watched a game in that stadium.
Back in the summer of 1944, it’s the stadium, together with the Moscow Hippodrome, which the Soviet authorities used to house the tens of thousands, of the German prisoners of war, before the ‘’Parade of the Vanquished.’’
WIRTH HAS A GOOD FRIEND HERE, HIS NAME IS ALUVAH
You got to love football, if not for its unifying power, then for everything that it gives us, including persuading a 70-year-old man to undertake a 2500 four-country road trip, into the heart of Russia, for a once-in-a-lifetime World Cup adventure.
“I had no problem with the Russian roads. You can compare them with the German ones,” Wirth told journalists on his arrival in Moscow.
“The police stopped me five times, but only to take pictures.”
He probably has a good friend, in Zimbabwe, whom he doesn’t know yet.
His name is Alvin “Aluvah’’ Zhakata and, just like him, he is a daredevil super fan, who loves his national team, the Warriors, and favourite domestic club, Dynamos.
Two years ago, Aluvah made headlines, across the continent, when he made a dangerous road trip, from Cape to Cairo, as part of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, to celebrate life on the continent, and also watch the AFCON finals.
Well, fate conspired against him and he ended up not watching even a minute of his team’s disastrous campaign, in Egypt, after delays, during his trip, which also saw him being caught up in a wave of revolutionary protests, in Sudan.
By the time Aluvah arrived in Cairo, his Warriors had already crashed out of the tournament, after two defeats, in their three group games.
They are not the only examples of football’s enduring romance, with its fans.
A Brazilian super fan, Mauricio dos Anjos, decided he didn’t want to keep buying a new replica jersey, of his beloved Flamengo, and had the red-and-black stripes tattooed, over his upper body, to give an impression, he was wearing the team’s shirt.
He is as devoted to his club’s cause, as a fan of Turkish side, Denizlispor, who decided that his 12-month ban, from entering their home ground, in April last year, would not prevent him from watching them play, in their matches.
He simply hired a crane, on match days, decorated it with his team’s flags and scarfs and, on match days, took it to just outside the Denizli Ataturk Stadium.
Then, he would ask the crane driver to hoist him above the security wall, and the terraces, enabling him to watch his team’s home matches, from his private seat.
There is something special about being a fan, about establishing a beautiful relationship with a sports team, which probably doesn’t even care about you, but which you care so much about.
The fascinating tales of these men provide a reminder, if ever we needed any, of the value, and importance, of football, in this world.
No sport wields so much power, like this simple game, it even briefly brought World War I to a halt, one Christmas eve, on the western front, in 1944, with the opposing forces, briefly laying down their weapons, to battle each other in a football match.
This simple game providing them with a reminder of the humanity, which the brutality of war had taken away from them, of the beauty of life, which the demands, and the horrors of conflict, had sucked out of them, transforming them into human machines of mass destruction.
Sadly, for all its importance, it’s a game which has also attracted the worst possible leaders, the world can possibly offer.
Shameless vultures, who have come on the scene pretending to be its all-weather friends, people on a mission to add value to this sport when, in reality, they are just there to deceive everyone, and abuse their positions, to make a fortune for themselves.
They don’t care about people like Aluvah, or the Wirth, let alone the welfare of the players, because it’s all about enriching themselves, about using this game as their slot machine, as their ATM, which they can visit, every time they need another dollar.
That’s the reason why Sepp Blatter went down, as a disgraced leader, a symbol of shame, an agent of infamy, a face tainted by the corruption, which happened under his watch, a man who, forever, will be haunted by his scandal-ridden leadership of FIFA.
That’s also the reason why Ahmad went out, with a two-year ban hanging over his head, his time at CAF having exposed him for what he is — a pathetic liar who came on board saying he would not take a salary, from his leadership of the continent’s game, yet went on to blow more than US$100 000 on a trip to Saudi Arabia.
And, that’s also the reason why, around the world, and especially in Africa, we have seen the people’s game being choked, unable to realise its full potential, because of these agents of darkness, characters who believe it’s their personal interests, rather than the sport’s interests, which should be served.
IN MOTSEPE, WE HAVE ALL INVESTED OUR COLLECTIVE TRUST
Last Friday, in Rabat, African football got a new leader, Patrice Motsepe, a South African billionaire who represented a divorce, from the same old characters, who have been around the continental game’s leadership, for some time now.
The same old, and tired, cartel which saw no evil, pretended to hear no evil and certainly chose to speak no evil, while Ahmad, and his cronies, shamelessly went on a mission to try and destroy our game.
The same gang which saw no evil, pretended to hear no evil and certainly chose to speak no evil, when Ahmad and his crew, through their reckless actions, switched off the AFCON qualifiers, from our television sets, in pursuit of their narrow, if not selfish, agendas.
The same individuals, who decided to look the other way, when the continent’s number one sporting discipline, was being dragged down the abyss, by a leadership that was at best, an insult to progress and, at worst, a human extension of everything that evil represents.
But, the blame shouldn’t be heaped on the CAF executive committee alone, but all the leaders of the continental game’s Football Associations, mean and women who saw that the ship was sinking but, driven by their petty personal interests, chose not to provide the intervention that was needed, to resolve the situation.
As long as they received their annual US$20 000 allowances, from the CAF headquarters, as long they were flown first-class, to various meetings, as long as they received their daily allowances from such trips, Ahmad and his gang had the freedom of the continent, to do as they pleased, and feast at the game’s expense.
These are the people who are more dangerous than Ahmad, because they are still around, still believe they have entitlement to their privileges, still feel they should feast more, and while we removed a tumor, when we sent Ahmad packing to enjoy his finishing in Madagascar, the cancer is still there.
The vultures are still out there, some even don’t believe in Motsepe, and the vision that he has for African football, which explains why they had rushed en-masse, to endorse Ahmad, for a second term, despite all the damage, which this man had inflicted, on our game.
At least, thanks to a combination of events, including a FIFA ban, our worst fears, of another four years with Ahmad in charge where super fans like Aluvah, someone who travelled from Cape to Cairo to try and watch his Warriors at the AFCON finals, can’t even watch them on television, anymore.
Now, at least, we have a leader who values both honesty, and integrity, who knows his image is worth more than the billions of dollars, which his business acumen has helped to earn him, and who cannot the kind of kamizake risks, which had become the hallmark of Ahmad’s messy regime.
Someone who knows the value of the fan, someone like Aluvah, who can spend a month in the jungles of Africa, on a road trip, just to be there in Egypt, to watch his Warriors take on the best teams, on the continent.
We have seen his engagements, with the Sundowns fans, humbling himself, from his lofty status as a billionaire businessman, to talk to the ordinary man in Mamelodi, to hear his views of what he thinks should be done, to improve the team, and make them challenge for honours, on the continent.
The supporter is the king, players come and go, and so do coaches, they even can move from one club, to play for, or coach a rival team, but the fans will always be there, in good and bad times, inspired by a love story which money can’t buy and which, the superstars, from a rival team, can’t break.
And, from a rather personal, if not selfish consideration, Motsepe has time for Zimbabwean football, from investing in our players and coaching staff, the man who gave Ian Gorowa a chance, to coach a major club, and the man who gave Peter Ndlovu the chance, to manage such a major club.
To him, we are the typical Makwerekwere, as abusive an identity tag as any that one can find in this world, which some of his fellow countrymen prefer to call us, but we are men of substance — hardworking individuals, who can be relied upon, to make a difference in any enterprise.
Patrice Motsepe, the football leader we all yearn to have, we are all desperate to get, we all dream to be blessed with, in terms of our national associations, but whom, unfortunately, we can’t have.
At least, from a bigger picture point of view, for the sake of fans like Aluvah and Wirth, for the sake of a game that was crying out for decent, and honest leadership, we have our man and, our number one sport, can breathe again.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton, Daily Service and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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