Eight of the country's top footballers have 'disappeared' during a trip to Britain, plunging Zimbabwean soccer into disarray. The players travelled to the northern city of Bradford 10 days ago for a friendly match. They were supposed to return to Harare last week but disappeared before boarding their plane, the official Herald newspaper said. Football officials conceded the players - from premier league teams CAPS United and Highlanders - had probably decided to pursue 'a new life in England'. 'The men decided to stay behind in England despite giving us assurances that they would join the rest of the team at Heathrow on the way back home,' said CAPS United owner Twine Phiri. Two officials who travelled with the teams also failed to return. The players' disappearance, with its uncanny resemblance to Cold War-era desertions of ballet dancers and tennis players from the Soviet bloc, is a huge embarrassment to Harare. Although Britain is publicly reviled by President Robert Mugabe, many Zimbabweans dream of emigrating as soaring inflation and unemployment mean life is getting harder by the day. But the British government, under pressure to clamp down on illegal immigration, grants few visas to Zimbabweans. The missing players appear to have seized on this month's match as a chance to leave Zimbabwe. One player was so desperate to travel to Britain that he sold his car to pay for his ticket, the Herald said. Team officials sat with the players until 3am on the first morning to ensure they did not desert, Zimbabwe's Sunday Mail revealed. The officials also confiscated the men's passports, but they appeared to have underestimated the players' determination. Some sneaked away without their passports, while two disappeared after checking in at Heathrow airport. Officials went into damage control yesterday, claiming the men had been persuaded to stay by Zimbabwean refugees seeking asylum. 'These asylum seekers want to use the players' choice to stay as evidence that all is not well in Zimbabwe so that they will be granted asylum status,' premier soccer league fixtures secretary Godfrey Japajapa told the Sunday Mail.