Lunch With Duncan Ellison
Sharuko on Saturday
THERE is a reason why 1983 is considered a watershed year in the history of league football.
It’s hard to imagine, in today’s world, that there was a time, when league football wasn’t broadcast live on television, on as regular a basis, as is the case today.
English football first arrived on television on September 16, 1937, just a year after the BBC started its TV service.
The match was a specially arranged local game between the Arsenal first team and their reserves.
The first live televised football match came a year after the end of World War II when the BBC broadcast a match, between Barnet and Wealdstone, at Underhill, on October 19, 1946.
The live broadcast covered 20 minutes of the first half of that Athenian League match and the second half was covered for 35 minutes before it became too dark to continue with the coverage.
In 1960, ITV agreed a deal worth £150 000 with the Football League to broadcast 26 matches and the first live league match was between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers on September 10 that year.
The deal collapsed shortly after both Arsenal and Tottenham refused to grant ITV permission to cover their matches against Newcastle and Aston Villa.
It didn’t help matters when the Football League started demanding a huge increase in player appearance payments.
For the next two decades, there was no live football coverage on television until a deal was struck, at the start of the 1983-84 season.
The first live league match, since the abortive attempt in 1960, was broadcast on October 2, 1983, between Tottenham and Nottingham Forest, on ITV.
The £5.2m deal gave ITV and the BBC five league matches each, and a strike by technicians at the BBC, meant it was only able to cover four games.
Many doubted whether this would work out with the Guardian writer, David Lacey, leading the chorus.
“An excellent match on television will persuade the fans that this is a better way to see soccer,” he wrote.
“A poor game will convince them that it is not worth paying money to watch it anyway.”
Just before that Spurs/Forest match in 1983, it emerged that Rupert Murdoch was moving into the world of satellite television.
And, as fate would have it, Forest would also feature in the first Premier League match on Sky Sports.
From £5.2m deal in 1983, the Premier League was now worth a cool £304 million, over five years, from 1992.
Today’s the TV deal for the Premier League, signed with Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime Video, is worth a staggering £4.8 billion.
Liverpool were English football’s glamour side throughout the ‘80s, an indomitable force which ruled the landscape with a touch of brutality.
Just like their rivals, the Reds’ first league match to be broadcast live on television was also in 1983 and Bruce Grobbelaar was in goals.
He was also the Warriors first-choice ‘keeper, having featured in the ‘82 and ’86 World Cup qualifiers for his country.
However, his international football adventure took a lengthy break only for him to resurface at the turn of the ‘90s during the wild days and rock ‘n’ roll nights of the Dream Team.
Bruce remains Africa’s most decorated ‘keeper with six English league titles, three FA Cups, three League Cups and a European Cup.
He was the first African to win the European Cup, now known as the Champions League, with his ‘spaghetti legs’ playing a big part in the penalty shootout final win over Roma.
That Liverpool side, in manager Joe Fagan’s debut season in charge, soared to immortality as the first Reds team to win the Treble of the League Cup, championship and the European Cup.
Forty years after he started the campaign, which would eventually end in this landmark triumph, Bruce is still the Zimbabwean footballer with the biggest profile around the world.
He earned it and he thoroughly deserves it.
LUNCH WITH DUNCAN ELLISON
What is probably confusing is that the country, whose biggest football star ever is a white eccentric ‘keeper, doesn’t have other white players, who have made any impact in international football.
We know that Bruce wasn’t the only talented white footballer to emerge from this country.
Bobby Chalmers, who scored two goals in three winner-take-all battles against Australia in the 1970 World Cup qualifiers, was another very good footballer.
At least, Chalmers’ time came before Independence. What is undeniable is that there were many other local white players, probably as good as Bobby, after Independence, who would have made a huge impact in this game.
However, for one reason or another, these footballers just decided, en-masse, to turn their backs on the game after Independence.
Duncan Ellison, a very good goalkeeper, decided not to go with the tide and continued to play football, at the highest level locally, for CAPS United.
In 1983, the very same year that Bruce featured in his first league match to be broadcast live on TV, and started the journey which would end up with the Treble, Duncan made it to the Soccer Stars of the Year calendar.
Forty years later, he remains the last white footballer to grace the iconic calendar, which is largely a celebration of the best players on the domestic football scene.
On Monday, I spent hours with the man they used to call Zico and we went down memory lane.
“In the ‘80s, the crowds were there, Rufaro was always full,” he said. “We had great players, we used to train at places like Zimbabwe Grounds.
“We had some fantastic players and please let’s make Zimbabwe football great again.”
Dynamos won the league in 1983, their fourth straight championship.
The Glamour Boys ended with the same number of points (36) as probably the strongest Rio Tinto ever.
But the Kadoma goldminers could only secure second place, because of an inferior goal difference, and never came close again, to winning the ultimate prize.
To understand Duncan’s point that, back then, they had amazing talented footballers, one only needs to look at the stars, on both sides, when Dynamos and CAPS United met in a dream Rothmans final, in 1983.
Dynamos won that showdown 3-1 but it’s the array of talent, on both sides, which catches the eye.
Lucky Dube, Lincoln Mutasa, Sunday and Misheck Chidzambwa, Oliver Kateya, Kenneth Jere, David Mandigora, Moses and Kembo Chunga, Eddie Katsvere and Gift M’pariwa on the DeMbare side.
Duncan Ellison, Clever Muzuva, Charles “Raw Meat” Sibanda, Size Torindo, Joel Shambo, Stix Mutizwa, Shelton Mengwende, Friday Phiri and Wisdom Mutemajiri, on the Green Machine side.
Moses Chunga is a superstar, no question about that, and both Stix and Shambo had the kind of super skills that are consistent with the making of a genius when it comes to the beautiful game.
But even if we take Clever Muzuva, for example, it’s very likely that, if he had played in today’s domestic Premiership, he would have been named Soccer Star of the Year, maybe, 10 times in a row.
The same can be said about Lincoln Mutasa, in today’s domestic Premiership, he would have dominated the individual awards and he would have been celebrated as a genuine superstar footballer.
It’s fair to say that both Lincoln and Clever do not have that attachment of excellence, which is seen in the likes of Shambo, Sinyo, Stix and Bambo.
It’s not because these guys were not very good but it’s because they played in an era where their talent ended up being overshadowed by the genius of the likes of Bambo, Shambo, Sinyo and Stix.
In today’s domestic Premiership, where the common denominator is mediocrity, the likes of Friday Phiri would have been celebrated as the epitome of greatness, when it comes to this game.
Duncan Ellison, for instance, would also probably have won the Soccer Star of the Year even five times in a row, if he had played in today’s Premiership.
FELT GOOD LISTENING TO A TRUE LEGEND
But, that’s beside the point.
The most important thing I picked up on Monday was that our football has somehow, over the years, perfected the art of isolating its legends from the game.
Somewhere, along the way, the game was captured by a bunch of chancers and once they had their grip, they created an environment, which was very hostile, when it comes to the participation of legends, in its affairs.
They ring-fenced themselves with those who worshipped them, the guys who would see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil, whose daily hymn was singing the master’s songs.
So, we ended up being told about fake legends, guys who played for the likes of GMB Mhangura, being dressed with borrowed robes, to appear as if they played for the real Mhangura of the Chieza brothers and Alick Masanjala.
We ended up with guys without any traceable history in the game, even as supporters, coming in and taking it over and creating an environment where any questions were treated as an insurrection, which had to be crushed at all cost.
Admittedly, not all former footballers have the qualities of being good administrators but, given the absolute disaster we have seen in the past few years, where one doesn’t need to know how to read numbers to lead this game, any of our ex-footballers could have done a better job.
Charlie Jones has been fighting for the voices of the legends to be heard and, to his credit, he even tried to squeeze his way into the corridors of power at ZIFA, only for him to be frustrated by a system which rewarded those who paid the electorate.
Farai Jere then decided to bring him to CAPS United, as the chief executive, and one can only admire the way he has stabilised a ship which, at some point last year, appeared doomed to sink.
Now, CJ or Kabhasikoro, whichever nickname suits you better, has started bringing in the legends back into positions where they can influence the way the Green Machine is run.
He is the one who invited Duncan Ellison to come back and watch a CAPS United league game, earlier this year, paving the way for this great son of local football to start playing a role, in the management of the game, with his priceless input.
We saw that on Monday, when he addressed a high-profile workshop, which drew the participation of SuperSport heavyweights and the entire membership of the Premiership clubs.
The last white footballer to appear on the Soccer Stars of the Year calendar in 1983, was the first ex-white footballer to address a gathering of the domestic Premiership at a workshop meant to find ways of making our top-flight league great again.
And, just like in 1983, where the game changer was the arrival of live broadcast of league matches on TV, the workshop on Monday centred on TV and how it could also help transform the domestic Premiership.
It felt good we had a true football man, with a credible record, speaking about the game instead of the joke we have seen, in recent years, where pretenders, with nothing to offer, took over the show.
Thanks Zico, it was good seeing you again.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton, Daily Service, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and all the Chakariboys still in the struggle.
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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