THE Dynamos team of 1997-1998 can justifiably claim, in a game where results will always be the ultimate barometer to measure greatness, to be the finest football side ever assembled in the history of football in independent Zimbabwe.
They might not have been an All-Star collection of superstars like the current Barcelona team — inspired by the immortal Lionel Messi, the sensational Neymar or the brilliant Suarez — but those Glamour Boys had the right balance that made them a mean machine.
At the back they had some hardworking men, blessed with an indomitable spirit, a midfield combination made in heaven in which Memory Mucherahowa provided the leadership and Lloyd Mutasa the artistry, and an explosive attack led by a Flying Doctor at the very peak of his athletic powers.
And, of course, they had the best coach that domestic football had ever known, Sunday Chidzambwa, a man who was desperate to make an impression on the continent after years of dominating the local scene.
A project that had been in the making from 1994, when DeMbare were crowned champions with a comfortable 11-point cushion over runners-up Highlanders, finally produced a mean machine which, in 1997 and 1998, touched the heavens and provided everything that the hearts of the Glamour Boys fans had ever desired.
That this Dynamos side was good enough to dethrone a powerful force like Steve Kwashi’s all-conquering CAPS United team, which had won the championship, and virtually swept everything on board in 1996, should provide proof, to any doubting Thomases, that this was a very special team.
To finish the 1997 league championship race with an 11-point advantage, over that awesome CAPS United team, which could only get second place, losing only two games in the 30-game marathon they played, scoring 78 goals, at an average of about 2.6 goals per game, the best goal harvest in the era of the modern Premiership then, which has only been beaten once since, by that Green Machine of 2004 which scored one more goal, set a benchmark for greatness.
And, just to prove that this Dynamos team was a special side, they took the country on a memorable adventure, in 1998, as they went on a Champions League fairy-tale ride, winning in Malawi (2-1 against Wanderers), winning in Mozambique (1-0 against Ferroviario), winning in Nigeria (1-0 against Eagle Cement) and holding Hearts of Oak to a draw in Ghana en-route to a place in the final.
That no other local side had ventured that far, in the very football tournament that separates the men from the boys when it comes to African football, and none has graced those heights since then, gives that Dynamos team of 1997-1998 the right to claim the bragging rights as the most powerful side that has ever been assembled in independent Zimbabwe.
That no other domestic side in the era of the modern Premiership has scored more goals, than the 78 goals those Glamour Boys, a team that has usually built its success stories on the foundation of a punishing defence that gives away very little, put away in the 1997 season, provides further proof of their greatness.
That only CAPS United (75 goals in 1996 and 71 goals in 2004) and Highlanders (73 goals in 1999-2000) have managed to crack the 70-goal mark, in a league season, in the more than two decades since Chris Sibanda and Morrison Sifelani launched the new Premiership, underlines how difficult it is to do that and why it is something that can only be achieved by special teams.
I was privileged to have followed those Glamour Boys of 1997-1998 from a front-row seat, travelling with them in their Champions League adventure — from Maputo where we were treated to an incredible performance by the goalkeeper George Mandizvidza, including one unforgettable moment when he appeared two twist his frame in mid-air and change direction to make probably the finest save I have seen in this game, to the drama of that final in Abidjan and everything about it whose stinking smell never fades away — to appreciate that they were, indeed, a very special team.
TWINE PHIRI, THAT AWESOME GREEN MACHINE HE BUILT AND KNOCKING DYNAMOS OFF THEIR PERCH
The titanic duel between that super Dynamos team and an awesome CAPS United in an unforgettable BP League Cup final in 1997, with the first one ending 1-1 at the National Sports Stadium, before the Green Machine won the second game 3-2 after extra-time, was as good a contest, on the domestic football scene, as they will ever come.
Both sides throwing everything at each other in a ferocious battle that brought the very best out of them and was a credit to their lofty reputations.
And when Twine Phiri chose this newspaper to make his big announcement that he was walking away from football administration, after more than a dozen years in the trenches, I couldn’t resist to think about that awesome Green Machine that he created which, in 2004, exploded into a weapon of mass destruction that destroyed everything in its path.
I began asking myself where that Green Machine ranked, if we are to compile a list of the greatest teams that have graced our Premiership, and a lot of questions flooded my mind — was that Class of 2004 better than the Class of ’96, was that team, under the tutelage of Charles Mhlauri, better than Mhofu’s team of 1997-1998 which set that benchmark, in terms of success, by reaching the final of the Champions League and earning the rights, in 1998, to consider themselves the second best club in Africa?
Ian Bakala, Laughter Chilembe, Joseph Kamwendo, Brian Badza, Raymond Undi, the ageless Lloyd Chitembwe, Leonard Tsipa, who to his credit is still playing at the highest level a dozen years later, Washington Pakamisa, David Sengu, Cephas Chimedza, you name them, this was an All-Star cast bent on making history which they provided as Kamwendo became the first, and only foreigner, to win the Soccer Star of the Year award.
Surely, man-for-man, in terms of raw talent, the CAPS United team of 2004 had better players than the Dynamos team of 1997-1998, but what that DeMbare side lacked in terms of athletic gifts from the football gods, they made up for it in their never-say-die spirit and their adventure in the CAF Champions League in 1998 will always provide proof, if any is needed, that they were a special side.
That’s why I thought about them on Thursday as Twine Phiri, a man whom I have worked with for more than 16 years in the trenches of our football, a man I respect for his passion for this game that unites us all, a man I could call a friend, told me that he was calling time on his days as a football administrator by disposing the remaining stake that he held in CAPS United.
Like Sir Alex Ferguson, whose mission when he was appointed Manchester United in 1986 to revive a giant that had last won the league championship in 1967, was to knock bitter rivals Liverpool off their perch, Twine also desperately wanted to create a CAPS United that would not keep playing second fiddle to the big bull in the kraal, eternal rivals Dynamos.
And like Fergie’s arrival at Old Trafford, Twine became the sole owner of CAPS United in 2002, during a difficult period when this club had turned into a mockery of the super Green Machine that Kwashi had created in 1996, which powered Makepekepe to their first league title in independent Zimbabwe, and memories created by Stewart Murisa, Alois Bunjira, Morgan Nkathazo, Joe Mugabe, Farai Mbidzo and their colleagues, were beginning to fade away.
Somewhere, along the way, CAPS United had lost their way and the heights scaled in 1996, and their competitiveness in 1997, looked like a freak show.
They finished fourth in the ‘98/’99 season but the fact that they were 23 points behind champions Highlanders, having lost 11 matches, spoke volumes about how they had become very ordinary and a seventh place finish in 2000, 22 points adrift of champions Bosso, with 14 defeats in the bag, showed they were no longer the force of ‘96/’97.
Another seventh place finish in 2001 and an eighth place finish in 2002, just three points better than the relegation play-off mark, provided further evidence of the decay that was crippling the Green Machine and Twine needed to act, and act very fast, if they were to go back to the podium where champions are honoured.
His decision to hire Mhlauri, then a greenhorn coach who had failed at Masvingo United, and back him even when he had a difficult start, was a masterstroke and his investment, in bringing some of the best players that could be plucked from Malawi and Zambia, and combining them with local talent, created a team that, in 2004, turned into a weapon of mass destruction.
That CAPS United side lost only once in 30 league matches, a home defeat when they went down 3-4 to Highlanders, were unbeaten in 15 matches on the road, won 12 of their home matches, drawing two and losing one, won 13 matches away from home, drawing the other two, scoring 38 goals in enemy territory, as they ran riot.
During an unforgettable three-week period, with the championship in sight, they hammered Amazulu 4-1, destroyed Kwekwe Cables 5-1 and Hwange 5-1 as they treated us to an exhibition of attacking football, complete with its ruthlessness, which was so beautiful to watch, for the neutrals, and a bitter pill to swallow for their opponents.
And, as CAPS United proudly lifted the trophy that confirmed that they, once again, the champions of football in this country, after a record-breaking season in which their 79 points set a benchmark which has never been broken, and might never be broken, in which they beat Dynamos home and away, this was, indeed, Twine Phiri’s Finest Hour.
A massive company called CAPS Holdings, with a huge financial base, had only succeeded in making CAPS United champions on two occasions, spread between 17 years, and now this man, this passionate football man, using his personal funds, had turned the Green Machine into champions, in record-breaking fashion, just two years after taking full control of the team.
Think about the ‘80s, from 1980 to 1990, and all the great players who played for CAPS United, the immortal Joel Shambo, the brilliant Stanley Ndunduma, the gifted Stanford “Stix” Mtizwa, Duncan Ellison, Friday Phiri, Oscar Motsi, the man we used to call Simbimbino, Kudzi Taruvinga, Shacky Tauro, it’s a pity they don’t make such deadly goal-scorers on the domestic scene anymore, and when you get to know that they didn’t land the league championship during that decade, you can begin to appreciate what happened in 2004.
For me, creating and bankrolling that Class of 2004, which played football with a style and purity that everyone wants to see in this game, which converted thousands of people into the Green Machine family, will remain Phiri’s finest piece of art and, as he walks away from the game, what he did back then will always ensure that he retains a special place in our game.
I have never forgotten the Dynamos Class of 1997-1998 because they were men who played football the way it should be, men who created memories that will never fade, like Tauya Murewa controlling the ball on the line, spinning in one movement to drag the ball between the legs of Blackpool’s Twaibu Sani, leaving the big defender in a heap, then sprinting half the length of the pitch to score a beauty, with Rufaro rising in unison to salute this artist.
I will never forget the CAPS Class of 2004, because they were men who played football the way it should be, men who created memories that will never fade, and that they managed to achieve all that while playing in the shadow of the tragedy of that road accident that killed Blessing Makunike, Shingi Arlon and Gary Mashoko, while coming from a game in Bulawayo, their second league match of the season, made their achievement all the more special.
TWINE WOULD NEVER RETREAT, NEVER SURRENDER
Football gave Twine Phiri the joy that he wanted and the game, too, stripped him of his fortune but even when the going got tough, when there was no money in the bank or in his pocket, he soldiered on, driven by his love for this game and his desire to see his beloved CAPS United succeed.
And, those trials and tribulations, helped to make him a very good administrator who, when he took over as the PSL chairman in 2010, he inherited a league that didn’t have a sponsor, which had given its champions Motor Action nothing for their success, but — in just under a year — brought in one of our biggest companies, Delta, as the flagship sponsor.
Those who had been sitting on the fence, worried about the damage that football could inflict on their brands, were inspired by Delta’s move because if a big company like this one could plunge into the game, they too could do so, and Mbada Diamonds followed, NetOne came on board and even SuperSport.
The rest, as they say, is history.
And the messages on The Herald online platform, from different fans who commented on the story that he was leaving the game, said it all:
“Hakuna zvakadaro, hakuna kwaunoenda, but ndarwadziwa.”
“Despite being Dynamos supporter, l am saddened by this news. Our football nation has lost a great man who contributed so much to football in this country. CAPS has faced so many challenges to a point where we all thought it was going down for good, but he managed to turn things around. Since leading the PSL, our league did not have much challenges with the sponsorship and everything has been sailing smoothly. Go well my brother and may God bless you.”
“True Green, Mr Phiri you ran a good race. Walk tall and be proud of your achievement. Come back for ZIFA presidency in 2018 kuti zvityise. Best wishes and thanks for keeping CAPS alive.”
“Not always appreciated but I think he can go out with his head held high, one of the unsung heroes of Zim football development.”
“Ndicho chirume ichocho, unosiya uchadiwa nevanhu wish you all the best.”
“It’s a shame Twine has decided to walk away from the game, his immense contribution to the league will be felt once he is gone, he managed to secure sponsorship when no one wanted to be associated with the league, despite the stories of poor governance at ZIFA we never heard of such squabbles at PSL which, in itself, speaks volumes of Twine’s leadership capabilities.”
It’s a pity Kennedy, we have just lost Eric Rosen, we lost Joel Salifu, we lost Lecture Mpange, men who sacrificed a lot for our football, a game that meant so much for them, and now Twine has now walked away, having been battered by a game that meant everything for him.
But we have to soldier on and I am happy that, talking to him on Thursday as he made his announcement, he said he was comfortable he was leaving his beloved CAPS United in good health and in very good hands and wished his long-time partner, Farai Jere, who is also one of the unsung heroes of our game, all the success.
There is a time to come and a time to go, Twine feels his time to go has come.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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