Robson Sharuko on Saturday
If, on the seventh day, somehow, whether by design or by default, September 21 had to be a Saturday, it could only be, and today, that’s exactly what it is.
That day, once every week, when my bosses here give me the freedom to write this blog without really adhering to the strict guidelines of what typically constitutes a news article.
And, on these spaces, I transform myself into a columnist, loved by some, hated by many, respected by others — something which is inevitable when you spend 20 years providing oxygen to a column in any country’s biggest newspaper.
Where, with the freedom of a blogger, I can write a lot of nonsense disguised as journalism, flirting between fantasy and reality.
Somehow, my confrontation with the first anniversary of the horror of that morning when the doctor called to tell me his spirited fight to try and save her, and her brave battle to try and live had been lost, had to be a Saturday.
A journey back to that day, a year ago, when the good doctor told me, as best as he could deliver such tragic news, that my dear wife of 25 good years, had passed away.
The start of a brutal journey of awkward adjustment, a tortuous life of loneliness after a quarter-of-a-century of companionship, a tough adventure that tests you to the very limit.
Reminding you, if ever you needed it, about the complexity of life and its enduring irony — that the more it gives you, the more it also takes away from you.
To imagine that on this very day, 25 years ago, we were having the time of our lives — five months into expecting the birth of our first child, and all the boundless joy it brought, two young people starting a family.
Little did we know that today, September 21, 2019, I would be walking alone in this world, despite all the assurance the Liverpool folks have been trying to provide in their signature song in the past year or so.
Even for a tough guy like me, all six feet and 115kg, the emotional wreckage has been too much to bear with, and for all the bravado I have shown, the reality is that I am now a broken and shattered soul.
And, inevitably, things change.
In the past, I used to spend time watching my collection of classic gangster movies — Godfather, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, American Gangster, Lock, Stock And The Two Smoking Barrels, Bonne And Clyde, Carlito’s Way, Boyz N’ The Hood and City of God.
And now I repeatedly watch “Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad,’’ the one-hour documentary the former Manchester United and England star produced for the BBC, where he interacts with a group of widowed fathers.
And, explores the grief which we guys have to deal with while the world mistakenly expects us to be the hard men who can handle it with ease, and how he coped with looking after his three kids – Lorenz, Tate and Tia — after losing his wife, Kate to breast cancer four years ago.
She was only 34 when she died, leaving him to take care of the kids, the oldest was 11, the youngest was seven, and a nine-year-old sandwiched the two of them.
Had Kate beat her breast cancer, this year would have been the 10th anniversary of their marriage, but cruel fate ruled otherwise and the tears for Rio and the tears for me just keep rolling down the cheeks.
TWENTY FIVE YEARS GO, NORMAN MADE THE GIANT LEAP
Today brings back a flood of those grim memories, and this week, my thoughts also kept drifting back to another tragic day — back when the choking voice of football agent Gibson Mahachi, on the other side of the line, advised me he had lost his wife.
I didn’t get to understand the full gravity of the torture he was going through that morning when he bravely decided to call me to relay the news.
But now I do, and it was terrible, where you melt into another world, where nothing appears to make sense, where you just wish the ground would open up and swallow you.
Where the immediate reaction is shock, a plunge into denial, confusion, a flood of tears and a broken heart that will never mend, and exactly a year later today, after my personal tragedy, I now understand why such depression has forced others to take their lives too.
Now and again, the mind drifts back to those moments when everything was good and you wish life could drag you back into the past, 25 years ago, when the sun was shining brightly.
I didn’t know Mahachi back in those days, he hadn’t even started his career as a football agent, he was living in Kwekwe.
But, I knew the man, who in later years would be a part of the powerful list of domestic football heavyweights Mahachi now manages today — Norman Mapeza.
He lived across the valley in Unit A, his family home conveniently located in the shadow of Chibuku Stadium, as if to eternally connect him, and many who grew up in that area, including Lloyd Chitembwe, to football.
Twenty five years ago, in ’94, Norman ventured into a territory no other Zimbabwean outfield footballer had walked before.
He was just 22, courageously took his place in the line-up of Turkish giants Galatasaray to face a star-studded Barcelona team featuring the likes of Romario, the best player in the world that year, Hristo Stoichkov, and a certain Pep Guardiola.
History will record that Norman featured in both matches against Barca — a 1-2 defeat at the Camp Nou and a 2-1 win for his team in Istanbul — in what was clearly the highlight of his decade-long European adventure.
But, it’s something that doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves in this country even though it was a very special — a 22-year-old fellow from Chitungwiza being given the task, in a UEFA Champions League, to keep out World Cup winner Romario and Stoichkov.
Even though it was a monumental chapter for Zimbabwean football, the moment a black footballer from this country blazed a trail in the Champions League, and — in the process — provided his countrymen with a living example that such heights in world football could be scaled by the local players.
Guardiola was 23 back then, and Norman was a year younger at 22, just a few months after arriving at Galatasaray as one of the 10 new players which the Turkish giants had invested in in August 1994.
Norman had been lured from Poland and the Galatasaray coach decided he was good enough to take on the likes of Romario and Stoichkov and, he didn’t disappoint him either, with solid performances in both matches.
That the Galatasaray coach could throw him into a team that featured the likes of Hakan Sukur, known as “The Bull of Bosphorous,’’ Turkey’s greatest goal-scorer and its most celebrated footballer, says a lot about Norman’s talent.
Three years later, we travelled together to a ’98 AFCON qualifier against the Black Stars of Ghana in Accra on a tour of duty where our trust would be earned and our bond would be strengthened.
WHEN PEP SAYS HE IS TIRED, WE CLAP HANDS, WHEN NORMAN SAYS THE SAME, WE SEE SHADOWS
Seven years ago, on April 27 2012, after guiding Barcelona to 14 trophies in four years as a coach, including two Champions League titles, Guardiola announced he would be leaving the club.
“Four years is an eternity as Barca coach,” he said.
“The main reason why I have taken this decision is because four years is many years. I have given everything and I have nothing left, and I need to recharge my batteries.’’
The journalists at that media conference all rose to give him a standing ovation, and across the world, we joined to celebrate his achievements rather than question his decision.
No one whispered anything about his treatment of black players, something which Yaya Toure later mentioned in his interview with France Football a few years later.
“He (Guardiola) insists he has no problems with black players because he is too intelligent to be caught out,” Yaya told France Football.
“But when you realise that he has problems with Africans wherever he goes, I ask myself questions. He will never admit it. But the day he will line up a team in which we find five Africans, not naturalised, I promise I will send him a cake.’’
Last week, Norman announced he was leaving FC Platinum after five years in charge in which he delivered two league titles and a place in the group stages of the Champions League. Just like Guardiola, he said he was tired, had given everything in a relentless pursuit for success, and five years at FC Platinum felt like an eternity, he now needed a break.
But, unlike Guardiola, we didn’t give him a standing ovation.
Instead, we suddenly started seeing shadows, questioning his decision, its timing, despite evidence which shows a surgery he underwent last year, and the two-week sick leave he took this year.
We started looking for skeletons — including fabricating allegations he was unhappy with how Champions League earnings were distributed — as if he went to Zvishavane only for the money and not for enhancing his profile as a coach.
We started saying it was because he had a short fuse, a fiery temper, he clashed with his bosses, clashed with his players, had an altercation with Gift Bello, was unhappy with how players were being traded.
And, some even said he was forced out of FC Platinum.
On one hand, we are prepared to believe Guardiola needed a break, and in the process, ignore how he treated Yaya Toure, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and pushed out Samuel Eto’o just after the striker enjoyed his best season with Barcelona, out of the club.
On the other hand, we were not prepared to believe Norman’s story that he, just like Pep, was tired, and we started coming up with all the ugly stuff about his clashes with his players, his employers, his fiery temper, you name it.
If, as the Bible tells us, on the seventh day God rested, why shouldn’t a mere mortal, like Norman Mapeza be doubted when he tells us he feels he deserves a rest?
Someone who underwent back surgery last year and missed a part of this season because he was feeling worn out?
NORMAN IS A MAN WE HAVE TREATED AS AN OUTSIDER FOR A LONG TIME
But, from the word go, I noticed Norman was largely treated as an outsider in our football — the guy the domestic game didn’t know because he had played briefly in the local Premiership.
Some said he was pompous, simply because he had the wisdom to invest in a house in Glen Lorne’s Folyjon Crescent, then the plush street address for Harare’s wealthy people, where tennis ace Byron Black also had a house.
They said he didn’t socialise with others because they never saw him drinking with them in the bars and nightclubs they frequent across town.
And, rather than see a model footballer, who was blazing a trail, setting the right example, they treated him as a rebel and an outsider.
Because, unlike most of them, he wasn’t one to be seen with different girls in different months, and at different occasions, some started to even circulate wild, and unfounded conspiracy theories, he was gay.
But, when he married, and started raising a family, protecting it as a good father should, many of those who had led the chorus of falsehoods — their careers and prospects in life long destroyed by their carelessness when they were at their peak — conveniently slipped into the shadows.
But, their poor choices still haunt them to this day, stalk them, and trouble them while Norman, the guy they chose not to understand and emulate because he was different and professional, continues to grow from strength to strength.
There is a reason I have refused to be part of the world of those haters, and their conspiracy theories meant to assassinate his character, simply because he is Norman Mapeza and has always been different.
Because the Norman who went to Seke High School II, itself just separated from Chibuku Stadium by a road, arrived at a powerhouse in schools’ football.
And, it was a measure of the talent he found there, he was never guaranteed a berth in the starting XI throughout his high school years.
However, his hard work, patience, professionalism and discipline, served him well and took him to the UEFA Champions League, the Nou Camp and a battle against Romario.
While, those who were far better than him during those school days, like the irresistible Disco Masaraure, never made it.
After 25 years of closely following, and interacting with him, I understand that – just like Guardiola – when Norman says he is tired, and needs a break, he means just that.
And, on a day like today, when life reminds me of what I lost, and how short and cruel this adventure can be, I tell myself there’s no point spending it chasing shadows.
That there is no point in joining the brigade that specialises in hating Norman, hurting Mapeza, stubbornly choosing not to understand him, not to accept him — simply because he has always been different to the mediocrity we embrace as what is acceptable.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole Ole!
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