Senior Sports Reporter
EX-CAPS United and Zimbabwe five-a-side player Anthony Kambani — who died in Harare on Wednesday night after a short illness — has been described as one of the most underrated players of his generation despite his role in anchoring the Green Machine side that claimed the “Cup Kings” moniker during the 1980s.
The former midfielder passed away at Sally Mugabe Central Hospital after he was admitted there on Wednesday morning following a short illness. He was 57-years-old.
His brother, Peter Kambani, confirmed the death and said the family was still waiting to hear from the authorities after it was suspected the tragedy was linked to Covid-19 complications.
“The death came as a shock to many people because it was so sudden. He just complained of a sore throat and general weakness of the body. We took him to Sally Mugabe Central Hospital where he later died.
“Funeral arrangements will be made after we have finalised the consultations. Right now we are waiting for results of the (coronavirus) tests. This is a difficult period for the family,” he said.
Kambani was born and bred in Mbare. He is survived by his wife and two daughters, Candice and Denise, who are all based in the United Kingdom. He made his name at Arcadia and CAPS United between the 1980s and early 1990s.
Former teammates at CAPS United, Eddie “Major Murefu” Muchongwe and Brenna “BaGari” Msiska, yesterday paid a glowing tribute to the ex-midfielder, who was rather known to be a shy and quiet character, but effective on the field of play.
Known by close acquaintances as Bryan Robson, after the former Manchester United player and coach who was his idol, Kambani is best remembered for his stint at Makepekepe during which he helped the club win several cup titles.
“This is a guy that I have known from a young age. We played together during our school days. He was at Chitsere Primary School and I was at Gwinyai Primary School. At Chitsere he was in the same team with Japhet M’parutsa and this was a very difficult team to beat.
“From there, we went separate ways and he ended up at CAPS United and I was at Dynamos. His contributions to CAPS United were massive and they had a record of winning cups. I later joined him at CAPS United and we enjoyed playing together,” said Muchongwe.
Former Soccer Star of the Year award winner M’parutsa, a childhood friend of Kambani, was devastated to learn about the ex-footballer’s death.
“So sad to hear about the death of Anthony Kambani. I went to primary school with Anthony from Grade 1 to 7. During our time at Chitsere, the team was unbeatable,” M’parutsa said from his base in the United Kingdom yesterday.
“The teachers were so happy they decided that at lunch-time we stayed at school. When the girls (it used to be only girls in the Food and Nutrition department) made meals as part of their lessons, they also made food for the team.
“This was a special treatment which made us more determined to win. Those were the days! What a player he developed to be. He will be missed,” said M’parutsa.
Kambani began his senior professional career at ProNutro in Division One and then moved to Arcadia United where he played for a long time. The doors opened for him at CAPS United in the mid-1980s and he made the most of the opportunity.
Ex-goalkeeper Msiska, who arrived at Makepekepe in 1986, round about the same time Kambani had crossed the floor from Arcadia United, said the ex-midfielder was key during the heydays at the Green Machine.
“Kambani was a very great footballer. We played together in the 1980s and we won trophies. We used to enjoy travelling around the country and across the continent.
“We visited many places together and we even worked together in the CAPS United technical team. At some point, he was left in charge of the team following the injury to Steve Kwashi in a car accident,” said Msiska.
Former Zimbabwe international Carlos Max, who played with Kambani both at Arcadia United and CAPS United, said he had lost a close friend. He said he would forever cherish the days when Makepekepe were the local Cup Kings.
“We had a very great squad. We were more like a family, we did almost everything together and it helped us get the results on the pitch.
“Generally, Kambani had a very good character and was also talented. He always pushed hard. He had become more of a close friend because we played together at Arcadia United and CAPS United and then worked together at Eagles Insurance. It’s a big loss,” said Max.
Former Zimbabwe skipper and coach Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa also paid his tribute.
“We have lost a colleague who was very good at what he did. Unfortunately, he never ventured much into coaching. But he contributed very much on the field of play.
“I remember playing against him during his days at Arcadia United. When he joined CAPS United, I was already into coaching. He was one of the key players in the CAPS United outfit that came to be known as the Cup Kings,” said Chidzambwa.
Legendary football commentator Charles “CNN” Mabika said Kambani was a workaholic footballer who didn’t get the recognition he deserved.
He was part of the Golden Generation that had the likes of Brenna Msiska, Carlos Max, the late Joel “Jubilee” Shambo, Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma (late), Shacky “Mr Goals” Tauro (late), Friday “Breakdown” Phiri (late), Clever Muzuva and Tobias Sibanda.
“Kambani was perhaps one of the most underrated midfielders in the country, hardworking and disciplined on and off the pitch. Perhaps he didn’t get the credit he deserved because he played alongside some of the greatest players like Ndunduma, Shambo and at Arcadia United he had the likes of Hamid Dhana, Bethal Salis and Archieford Chimutanda.
“He was full of graft and determination, and I would place him in the class of David ‘Yogi’ Mandigora and Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo,” said Mabika.
It was the veteran sportscaster who coined the nickname “Bryan Robson” for Kambani.
“He loved the nickname to bits. He was a fanatic of the former Manchester United and England captain. He knew everything about Bryan Robson and would go the extra mile to defend him whenever someone said something negative about him.,” said Mabika.
Kambani also had a brief career in coaching as understudy to Steve “The Dude” Kwashi at CAPS United before leaving the game to pursue other career options.
Former CAPS United captain Joe “Kode” Mugabe said Kambani was an inspiration to his generation.
“He was one of my mentors. I had the privilege of playing with him and coaching with him. I enjoyed playing with him behind me in our midfield.
“He was a fighter and I had the privilege of coaching with him when Steve Kwashi took over at CAPS United. He was the assistant to Kwashi and I was the third assistant as a player-coach when Kwashi stopped coaching due to ill health.
“He became an acting coach and I became his assistant. It was a pleasure to learn from him. Even when I had left CAPS United he always gave me advice. I remember my days at Sporting Lions. My thoughts are with his family in these hard times,” said Mugabe from his base in the UK.
The Herald Sports Editor, Collin Matiza, who grew up together with Kambani in Mbare, also joined family, friends and former team-mates to say a fond farewell to a footballing legend yesterday.
“We grew up together with Anthony Kambani in Mbare and he was three years older than me, but I first watched him playing football when he was a primary school pupil at Chitsere Primary School in Mbare in the mid-1970s where he played in the school’s senior team with the likes of the legendary goalkeeper Japhet ‘Shortcat’ M’parutsa, Stanley ‘Chola’ Manyati, Amon Munyari Chikwenga and Patrick ‘Samusha’ Duncan who all went on to make names for themselves in the local top-flight football.
“Although I was at Shingirayi Primary School, I just couldn’t afford to miss watching these guys playing for Chitsere Primary School as they were just talented youngsters, playing under the late great football and athletics administrator Clifford Chiripamberi.
“And when Kambani finished his high school education, I also had the privilege of watching him playing for Division One side ProNutro in the mid and late-1980s before he was snatched by Arcadia United who were then under coach Mick Poole and that was before I joined The Herald as a junior sports reporter.
“And that is when we became close friends and after each game he used to say to me: ‘Mupfanha Kodza wareporter, nyora zvakanaka nezve mukoma wako. Unoziva kuti ndakaipa pamidfield apa’. I used to call him Bla Tony and we were also drinking partners at Raylton Sports Club in Harare.
“Kambani occupies a special place in every local football fan’s heart, especially those who follow CAPS United. He gave us hope.
“With his departure, the modern Zimbabwean football family is orphaned. May God enlighten his soul,” Matiza said.
The Herald’s Senior Sports Editor, Robson Sharuko, also paid tribute to Kambani.
“We called him Bryan Robson, it’s a measure of how good he was, in today’s local football clubs he would have been celebrated as a football god.
“Nice chap always played and lived with a smile. Go well Anthony Kambani,” Sharuko wrote on his Twitter handle yesterday.
As the highest recognition in his career, Kambani represented the Zimbabwe national 5-a-side football team at the 1989 FIFA Futsal World Championship held in the Netherlands.
Zimbabwe faced the United States, Italy and Australia but failed at the first hurdle in this inaugural edition of the tournament.
He scored Zimbabwe’s opening goal at the tournament in the 1-5 defeat to Italy. Other members of the squad included Brenna Msiska, Peter Nkomo, David Mwanza, Clayton Munemo, Garikai Zuze, Masimba Dinyero, Ronnie Jowa, Joseph Machingura, Henry Chari, Benjamin Zulu, Danny Kamuchira and Reason Dawa.