Mike Madoda Special Correspondent
LET’S go back to where it all started — a Saturday afternoon in 1987, my first top-flight match, as a witness and a fan, and I’m just a mere seven-year-old boy from rural Sanyati.
Rimuka in Kadoma provides the setting and Highlanders, and their travelling band of fans, are in town for a duel against Rio Tinto.
By the end of the 90 minutes, my heart has been captured by the sights and sounds of these Bosso fans and, a romance, that has lasted the test of time, has been born.
It’s also the same year that the Liverpool bug also bites, thanks to watching Big League on television, after my parents had moved me to a boarding school.
Thirty-two years have passed since that Rimuka adventure or watching football in the TV Room at Christina Hostel at Sir John Kennedy Primary School in Kadoma.
Along the way, I’ve added a few more teams — Barcelona, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Orlando Pirates — to the clubs I follow keenly as a fan.
Five years ago, in the company of Alois Bunjira and Robson Sharuko, I had the privilege of watching Borussia Dortmund destroy Freiburg 6-1 at the Westfalenstadion.
And, just last year, I was lucky to be at Anfield as Mohamed Salah inspired Liverpool to a five-star performance, bagging a hat-trick, in a five-goal mauling of Watford on a cold winter evening. There have been other memorable moments along the way, the Bosso road show that captured the imagination of a nation, the miracle of Istanbul when Liverpool pulled of an astonishing comeback after trailing a crack AC Milan outfit 3-0 at the break, to win an unlikely a fifth Champions League crown, on penalties.
These are the memories and moments one carries as a fan and they never die.
Today I have the enormous privilege of speaking to the nation on the game I love so much, from ZBCtv to SuperSport and from Power FM to ZiFM Stereo, in partnership with my colleague Barry Manandi.
And, together, we have discussed, analysed and debated some of the most topical issues in the sport, much to the delight of some and the disdain of others. Sport, by its very nature, especially football, is emotive and opinionated.
That emotion driving what would be normally level-headed individuals to purring kittens of affection when they love your take, or rabid dogs of criticism when your analysis sails against the wind of popular opinion.
But sail on we must, sometimes with a defiance that can be mistaken for arrogance, firm in the belief that opinion in sport is just that — opinion — nothing more than a mere catalyst for debate and discussion, from which the protagonists can profit from the exchange of ideas and different points of view.
Most journalists were driven into this profession by our love for sport.
We had teams we supported, players we loved and heroes we idolised, and possibly, still do.
No-one ever casts off their loyalties at the start of their media careers and what we have done is suppress the fan in us publicly because we haven’t been brave enough to face up to the controversy and extra scrutiny that comes with pinning our colours to mast. The traditional voice of the sports journalist is a neutral voice, detached from any connection to the teams or players they cover.
The buzzword here is “objectivity.”
So, we play it safe, giving the impression that we are journalists first, with no emotional attachment to the game, and yet most of us, if not all, were driven to the newsroom or studio by a passion born out of our love for the beautiful game.
The big question then comes along — can one be a pundit and a fan? Is one able to separate the emotion of being a fan from the critical analysis required of a journalist?
And it is my humble submission that the simple answer is “YES”.
From the beginning of our journey, Barry Manandi and I were very open about the teams we support and, at no time, did we hide behind the false veil of neutrality.
Of course, such a stance has its supporters and a fair number of detractors, those who believe that as a Highlanders fan, I can never be impartial about Bosso or fair in my opinion of their arch-rivals DeMbare. Those that see us as being unduly critical of everything CAPS United and fawning in our adoration FC Platinum. I’ve always argued that a man must be judged by the calibre of his work and not the flag he flies as a fan, the time-honoured tradition of calling the media “neutral” is a myth and if anything, disingenuous.
How many times have we heard cheers, or a ripple of applause, emanating from the media galleries around the country?
Far too many times to mention and that’s because at the very core of every individual, whose passion is rooted in sport, lies the very genesis of why we are in this game — we were fans first and foremost, even before the interest in journalism seized us. It’s the foundation that we built on and have found our livelihoods in — the fan in us didn’t die the day we picked up a pen or microphone. There are even those that argue that pure objectivity is impossible to attain; no pundit is devoid of emotion about the subject at hand, whether it’s a match or a story and, in fact, that connection often makes one’s delivery even better. The sports media industry has also evolved with breathtaking speed and scope over the last decade. Most of the resulting innovations are obvious — digital platforms competing with the newspaper; the advent of social media; celebrity-driven coverage and a lot more.
But that’s not all — the voice of sports media has changed as well and, increasingly, some sports journalists have abandoned neutrality in favour of writing or broadcasting in the voice of the fan to provoke debate and discussion.
The need to push sales and ratings has pushed traditional ethics to the side as the more controversial or topical an issue is, the more it’s likely to assist in meeting the business objectives of the organisation.
And, needless to say, nothing breeds controversy better than subjectivity. And that is the challenge facing the modern-day journalist — how to strike the right balance between information, education and entertainment.
The journalists that have inspired me have always been the men and women who have been able to weave those three threads into a tapestry that grabs your attention.
If it is devoid of emotion, it is only intellectual in worth and not worth a second of my time.
Sport is passionate, emotional, romantic, tragic, and inspirational — who are we to be impervious to its finest qualities?
Judge us more in the way we tell the story, the way we provoke debate and discussion that illuminates our mornings after a matchday, the way we engage you — not always in agreement, but always open to hearing another side to the story.
It is among the young lads at the gates at Rufaro pleading for well-wishers to pay for their entrance to watch their local heroes that the next big journalist could be found.
Or it could be in Sanyati where another pundit could rise from its dusty pathways to illuminate our television sets or another boy in Chakari or Sakubva, to run the back pages of this newspaper.
Wherever they are now, one thing is for certain — they are fans first, it’s their birth right and no criticism or cynicism can remove that.