On a chilly November night in 1998, amid the beautiful chaos that had greeted Dynamos’ historic qualification for the CAF Champions League final, I stood in the car park of the National Sports Stadium, consuming the events of a defining day in Zimbabwe football that would be remembered, and celebrated, forever. The wave of happiness, among thousands of delirious Zimbabweans pouring out of the giant stadium, was a sight to behold, a people united by the finest hour in the history of club football in this country, finding heat in the comfort of its significance which comfort from the chilly elements of that night.
In that sea of happiness, we all retreated into our shells, the purity of the golden moment requiring every individual to pinch himself, or herself, to believe this wasn’t a dream, so flattering it would leave all of us depressed once the reality of the morning came, and we had to wake up to face the real world.
There were a number of people who were talking to themselves that night, saying things one couldn’t comprehend but, clearly, pregnant with joy, strangers who just came across and hugged you, friendships that emerged from nowhere and songs of happiness that provided a fitting soundtrack to a night that the Lord had blessed us with a monumental victory.
It was hard to be a neutral player that night, it’s either you were with the winners who had taken it all, or the few losers who were standing small, and — for the first time since I began this adventure as a journalist — I couldn’t resist the urge to join the screaming and dancing as the bands played on in that car park.
This was a throwback to my youthful days, when I was part of the gang that supported our beloved Falcon Gold back home in Chakari, and — even though I was now 28 and a father of a three-year-old daughter old enough to be part of that crowd, the temptation to sing and dance in that incredible wave of celebrations was too hard to resist.
And, boy oh boy, after having spent close to a decade confining my emotions to myself, when it comes to the domestic game, occasionally releasing my feelings in the company of my close friends when my Manchester United was doing well, or when Reinhard Fabisch and his Dream Team took us on that merry journey towards the Promised Land, I just found myself simply exploding and joining that bandwagon of happiness.
It didn’t need a genius to realise that this wasn’t an occasion solely for the Dynamos fans to celebrate, this was a triumph that transcended the pillars that divide the fans of the various clubs in this country, which diluted the rivalry that usually make them such vicious enemies other matches are tainted by hooliganism, the differences that is so rooted to the colours that their teams use.
This was an occasion for Zimbabwe football to celebrate and, being part of the family, a die-hard Falcon Gold supporter who grew up believing that my beloved Bwelaufe was the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to club football, I joined in the fun, danced with my fellow Zimbabweans and sang songs of triumph that turned that parking lot into a cathedral of music.
This was an impromptu party, ignited by the success of men who shared the same passports as ours, who lived in our neighbourhoods, who lived in our city, who shared all the challenges that we faced as a nation, and who had showed incredible resilience, that very special quality that makes the people of this country a special lot, to triumph against all the odds stacked in their path.
We all felt privileged to have been there to bear witness to that golden moment when a group of our sportsmen wrote a success story that would be felt across the entire football world and that Dynamos had lost that match against Hearts of Oak of Ghana barely mattered, overshadowed by the bigger picture that the Glamour Boys had managed to get the result they needed to qualify for the final of the Champions League.
Then, as the music died, with people having left for home or to continue their celebrations in the bars dotted around the city, I saw a car drive away from that parking lot and that sight has remained embedded in my mind forever, the defining sight of all the happiness that swept across the giant stadium that night.
A huge banner was fitted to the back of that car, which was blowing gently in the breeze of that chilly night, and it’s the words that were on that banner that have remained etched in my mind, a reminder of the events of that day — “IF THIS IS A DREAM, PLEASE GOD DON’T WAKE ME UP AGAIN!”
In that simple phrase, on his huge banner, that fan captured what we were all thinking about, the thousands of fans who had filled the giant stadium to capacity that night and seen a dream come true, and the millions of our fellow countrymen and women who had prayed that the Glamour Boys triumph that night.
TEN YEARS LATER, THE GLAMOUR BOYS CHARMED THE WORLD AGAIN
When Dynamos beat Egyptian giants Zamalek at Rufaro, thanks to that wonder goal by David Shoko from a late venomous free-kick whose trajectory, from his boot into the roof was too much for our eyes to keep pace with, with fans in the old stadium only erupting into a frenzy once they saw that the ball had nestled into the nets, to qualify for the semi-finals of the 2008 Champions League, they made headlines around the world.
Paul Doyle, an Irish journalist who is the chief sportswriter for one of Britain’s leading daily newspapers, The Guardian, wrote a fine piece in which he argued that, should the Glamour Boys win the Champions League that year, they would have written world football’s greatest story.
The headline screamed — ‘Zimbabwe’s Dynamos could be football’s biggest winners this season’ — bigger than Manchester United winning that dramatic Champions League final against Chelsea in Moscow.
“In Zimbabwe, Dynamos Football Club are nicknamed the Glamour Boys because they are the country’s most popular club,” wrote Doyle in his article.
“But, in the wider world of African, let alone global football, that sobriquet could easily be seen as sarcastic. For, financially, Dynamos are in dire straits even though they can sell out their 45 000 capacity stadium where, at the start of the season, the cheapest tickets cost one hundred million dollars.
“Dynamos, on their previous appearance in the African Champions League, managed to reach the final in 1998 before losing to Ivorian giants ASEC Mimosa in what you might describe as controversial circumstances.
“The various rues devised to upset the visitors before the second leg in Abidjan reached a nadir during pre-match warm-up when a brawl broke out and Dynamos’ captain, Memory Mucherahowa, was head-butted into unconsciousness.
“It is damning that (SuperSport) TV, the Southern African satellite TV channel, regularly screens matches from South Africa, Kenya and Zambia but doesn’t bother with the Zimbabwean league.
“Dynamos may have ended 10 barren years by claiming the League and Cup double last season but only two of their players are in the Zimbabwe squad that has already been eliminated from the 2010 African Cup of Nations, despite the fact that Dynamos’ manager, David Mandigora, is also assistant to the national team coach.
“Yet, last Saturday, Dynamos beat Zamalek to reach the semi-finals of the African Champions League.
“Zamalek — the Egyptian giants who have won the tournament five times, boast a slew of internationals and are flush enough to employ an expensive German coach and pay Amir Zaky’s replacement, Junior Agogo, some 300 000 pounds per year. “Those resources should put them in another world to the Glamour Boys. “Understandably, the players are eager to make the most of their Champions League success.
“The other teams in Dynamos’ group were no less daunting than Zamalek. They were the other Cairo giants, and also five-time African champions, Al Ahly, plus old chums ASEC Mimosa who, as one of the most consistent clubs on the continent, have reached the group stages in nine of the last 12 seasons.
“Even getting to the group stages was an astonishing feat for Dynamos, particularly as it entailed shocking reigning champions Etoile du Sahel. “To overcome to the final, Dynamos will next month have to overcome the Cameroonian champions Cotonsport Garoua, who have at least reached the semi-finals after years of under-achievement on the continent.
“I think we will be Number One now,’ says Dynamos secretary-general, Tawanda Murerekwa. ‘Winning the tournament would go a long way to securing the club’s future. We would be able to do things like getting training equipment and a team bus.’
“The symbolism of a team bus would be powerful. It was an inability to pay an outstanding debt to a bus hire company in 2004 that forced the Zimbabwe FA into an embarrassing sale, when it had to auction everything from chairs, filing cabinets and refrigerator to staplers and reams of paper.”
AND THE MIGHTY WARRIORS JOIN THAT HEROIC BAND OF MIRACLE WORKERS
On Sunday, our Mighty Warriors gate-crashed into that elite group of our football’s miracle workers, showing once again, like those Glamour Boys in ’98 and 2008, that we are a special breed of people who have perfected the art of defying the odds and writing incredible success stories when it comes to football.
Their resilience, to take on those giants of Cameroon, fresh from a World Cup appearance and finishing second at the African Games, and beating them for a place at the 2016 Olympic Games, is the stuff that dreams are made of and another demonstration, to the world, that those who nicknamed us Warriors were not foolish.
To go toe-to-toe, as they did against Cameroon at Rufaro on Sunday, and subdue those giants, getting just the result we needed for a maiden appearance at the Olympic Games when it comes to football, was a beautiful exhibition of the qualities that make us such a special breed of people.
To refuse to be intimidated into submission by those giants from West Africa, and strike a fatal blow that provided us with a reminder of David when he tamed Goliath, and was to some of us a realisation that, indeed, what is written in the Holy Book comes to pass.
The coming to life of what we had read in 1 Samuel Chapter 17:
But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.
“Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”
David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.
With one swing of David Shoko’s foot, that day in 2008, we downed mighty Zamalek, those great knights from the Land of the Pharaohs, and our success story, as we booked our place in the 2008 Champions League semi-final, against all the odds, captured the imagination of the entire world, including British football writers.
With one swing of Rudo Neshamba’s foot, at Rufaro on Sunday, we downed the mighty Lionesses of Cameroon, those great fighters from Yaounde, and our success story, as we booked our place for a samba dance in the Rio sunshine next year, against all the imaginable odds, captured the imagination of the entire world.
We are Warriors, Mighty Warriors, and even though our leaders like Cecilia Gambe might lose at times with an outburst that is unnecessary and needlessly political, we know that in this game, when we unite, we can bring down the Goliaths of this world.
Prophet Walter Magaya believed in this journey, long before many of us saw the light, and felt he needed to help the Mighty Warriors realise their dream.
Of course, this is not a dream, as that fan who drove away in his car on that chilly night in 1998 finally realised, and, so you can wake us up any time Lord so that we can enjoy it over and over again.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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