BULAWAYO’s ceremonial home of football, Barbourfields Stadium, will no doubt hold memories for South African giants Orlando Pirates who were greeted by an electric atmosphere for their Caf Champions League blockbuster encounter against Zimbabwean champions, FC Platinum on Saturday.
Scores of football lovers from Bulawayo and other parts of the country came in droves, filling Barbourfields Stadium to the brim.
A total of 23 164 fans paid to watch the game, with about 2 000 people turned away from the stadium to avoid a stampede.
The game, which ended in a 0-0 stalemate, lived up to the pre-match billing, with FC Platinum showing great tactical ability to contain the 1995 Caf Champions League winners who were ably backed by vociferous fans, mostly Highlanders supporters.
Pirates were more like the home team, as a sea of black and white enveloped Barbourfields, roads leading to the stadium as well as Bulawayo’s Central Business District (CBD), while FC Platinum’s green looked to have been suffocated.
The support that Pirates got at Barbourfields overwhelmed the Sea Robbers or Buccaneers’ coach Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic who made special mention of the popular Soweto Stand that houses Highlanders supporters at Barbourfields Stadium.
In video clips posted on Pirates’ social media platforms Twitter and Facebook pages, Micho as the Soweto giants gaffer is popularly known, said he was in awe with the backing that they received.
The support that Pirates got in Bulawayo was far much better than what they are accustomed to when they are involved in their domestic league games, save for the derby against Soweto rivals Kaizer Chiefs.
“Every player’s pride is to have people supporting the team. Here (Barbourfields Stadium) supporters have been supporting us and loving us. We thank them for all the support that they’ve given us,” said Micho.
“What I want to tell you is that before being coach, I’m a human being. And if you’re a human being you can sense the spirit and emotions. And proudly standing in front of a stand that is called Soweto Stand where Highlanders supporters are, our brothers in soul and understanding in philosophy of life. We know that they’ll be behind us, and when we’ve arrived, I’ve been all over the world, I can see so many things, I can see teams are supported, but there’s one team that is not just supported but is loved and it’s Orlando Pirates,” added Micho.
Just before kickoff, Barbourfields went into a frenzy when Pirates players gave their pre-match salute, crossing their hands, something that Highlanders does before the start of their games.
Zimbabwe international Kudakwashe Mahachi, who seems to have hit top form following the setback of losing his mother, made an emotional return to Emagumeni, displaying some deft touches on the left and occasionally dribbled past FC Platinum’s players, much to the amusement of the fans.
Mahachi was clearly at home, and Barbourfields Stadium gave the star who grew up in Mzilikazi’s N-Square, about 200m from his home, a rousing reception.
The Zimbabwe national team winger had special words for Highlanders fans.
“Thank you very much Highlanders fans for the support, it means a lot to me. I wanted to cry seeing you guys. Highlanders FC Bosso, I will always love you guys,” said Mahachi.
Pirates captain Happy Jele said: “We had incredible support here and wanted to get a good result in front of our fans here because everybody knows Pirates and that was important to us.”
Social media was abuzz, with Buccaneer fans also expressing their gratitude to local fans.
“If I was a chairman of Pirates, I would take each n every CAF match to Bulawayo; they really love Pirates. I salute. Thank you Zimbabwe for the support #OnceAlways ,” wrote Archey Khoza.
Linda Buthelezi: “Zimbabwe supports football…it was amazing to see on tv…thank you Zim”
Vusumuzi Xaba: “We thank the Zimbabweans for the support, they came in numbers. It’s a pity we didn’t give them a goal. That stadium would have fallen down. #UpTheBucs ”
Highlanders FC: “Over 23 000 thousand football loving fans gathered at BF to watch CAF Champions League group stage match between @FCPlatinum and @orlandopirates. It was indeed, another day in the history of FC Platinum, and Zimbabwean football in General.”