Friday, June 14, 2024

Blog: A decade ago – a fight for the jersey

Exactly 10 years ago, in my capacity as Head of Delegation for the ZNT at the AFCON 2012, I was involved in an incident, which was previously either glossed over or simply under reported.

It was the fight for the orange Jersey – a fight akin to defending the national flag, albeit in the board room. Whenever I think about it, it brings profound memories to me.

In the run up to the final, the Zambia National Team had donned the Orange top – Green shorts jersey, save for the quarter final against the joint hosts – Equatorial Guinea when the green top and black shorts jersey was used.

The orange jersey came to symbolize our lucky charm and was the preferred first choice jersey for the ZNT.

The AFCON 2012 winning technical bench.

The incident being referred to happened in the morning of 10th February 2012 when we went for the pre-match meeting at the plush Softel hotel where the CAF delegation was based.

In my delegation was FAZ Excom member, Elijah Chileshe, who was the Deputy HOD, Lusekelo Kamwambi and Dr Joseph Kabungo, the Team Doctor.

The meeting was slated for 10:00 hours in meeting room 4. Our delegation arrived around 09:50 and we found the Match Commissioner Dr Olefi Oliphant and the match officials already seated.

The delegation from Cote d’Ivoire team arrived slightly after 10 hours and they entered the room with unmeasured pomposity and pride, that can only come from people who are full of themselves and have little regard for rivals.

We went through usual formalities of the meeting quickly until we came to the issue of jersey. In that match we were the designated home team, and the tournament rules gave us the right to submit the preferred jersey first.

Lusekelo submitted our Orange /Green jersey and the Cote d’Ivoire delegation submitted a green/orange top and orange shots.

The colours simply clashed. When the Cote d’Ivoire delegation was asked to submit their second choice kit, it was all orange. Headache for Dr Oliphant.

He then asked me what was the second choice for Zambia, I told him that it was simply not under consideration from our end since we were the home team.

The Cote d’Ivoire delegation said they could arrange a third choice kit – all white from puma but it would take 36 hours to fly it into Gabon and that would mean postponing the final.

Dr Oliphant pleaded with us to consider using the green/black jersey which was our second choice but I refused to budge.

He asked for recess in order for him to consult. I texted the president and he came down to the foyer.

After I briefed him about the situation, he guided me that we needed to stick to our rights as the home team.

Meeting reconvened after 10 minutes, and there was no breakthrough in sight.

The meeting ended after two hours inconclusively with the Match commissioner advising us that he was referring the matter, for final adjudication to the CAF Emergency Committee.

Around early afternoon, when we were concluding our lunch at the team hotel, Monique the receptionist came looking for me with a letter immaculately addressed to the Head of Delegation for ZNT.

It was from the CAF Secretary General advising that the CAF Emergency Committee, had after reviewing the unique situation we had found ourselves decided that Zambia National team should wear green and black while Cote d’Ivoire should be in in all Orange.

I quickly informed the president about the verdict. Shortly, Lusekelo, Patrice and Herve joined me as I was soaking in the implications of that letter.

Herve just shrugged his shoulders without betraying his positivity and said we will still play to win.

Later at the stadium, I met Dr Oliphant outside the eastern dressing room, which the ZNT was using.

He gave me an apologetic smile and tapped me on the shoulder and re-assured me all was well.

I did not harbor any resentment to anyone on the outcome but just felt upset with myself that I had let down the team by not ensuring that their preference for the Orange jersey prevailed.

What came to my mind was – what if the sudden change in preferred jersey affected the performance of the team.

It was not just another game, but the final of an epic proportional and probably the biggest game of their lives.

As I was going to the VIP section, I met a member of the Cote d’Ivoire delegation who gave me a sly smile as if to communicate that ‘we have won round one over the jersey, expect more from us……’ .

My indignation increased, but was diluted by that premonition I had experienced when we were leaving South Africa for the tournament – the belief that we were going to do more than we had previously done in previous tournaments.

Five hours later, we were crowned African Champions and immediately after the medal award formalities, I went to look for that Cote d’Ivoire official to commiserate with him, because I was taught that even in victory, magnanimity should prevail……

[The Author, Borniface Mwamelo is a former FAZ Vice President]

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