Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
BRITISH goalkeeper Ryan Harrison broke a long-standing jinx in the Castle Lager Premiership, which has for long been shunned by white players, when he made his debut for Harare City last weekend. Whether he knew it or not, Harrison literally added some colour to the domestic top-flight football league which has not been graced by a white player for close to two decades.
The 32-year-old Englishman had a clean sheet when he played his first match for the Sunshine Boys against Black Rhinos at Rufaro on Saturday.
In the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s it was a common sight in this country to see white football players playing against black stars.
There were a number of talented white players who emerged on the scene like legendary goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, Jimmy Gilpin, Bobby Chalmers, Walter Lawrie, Topsy Robertson, Duncan Ellison, Mark Watson, Regie Sheasby, Rob Jordan, Brian Pearce, Graham Boyle, Tommy Ballantyne, Billy Sharman, Boet van Ays, Derick Petrie and John “Seke Muchena” Humphreys.
Zimbabwe also used to import white players and coaches from the United Kingdom during the pre-independence era with John Rugg one of the big names who also later made his name as coach of the senior national team.
Before Rugg’s arrival, there was also ex-Scottish footballer Danny McLennan and Englishman Bill Asprey who both coached the senior national team during the pre-independence era.
The last two white players to feature on the domestic Premiership were Americans Andrew Shue and Kelly Jacobson of Highlanders at the turn of the millennium.
Shue was also an accomplished actor who featured in American prime-time soap opera Melrose Place.
“We used to have a number of talented white players before and after independence and in a way it made everything exciting,’’ said football pundit Charles “CNN” Mabika.
“Probably my best white player after independence was Mark Watson, whom we nicknamed Lord Soames. That guy was very talented.
“And the last we had were the Highlanders duo of Shue and Jacobson. They we both students who had come to Zimbabwe on an exchange programme between the governments of Zimbabwe and America.
“They were part of the Bosso trailblazing squad of 1999-2001, I am sure. I remember Shue was a regular in that squad while Jacobson played cameos.
“But before them, there was an almost 10-year gap when Derrick Petrie last featured for Arcadia United before they were relegated in the early 1990s.
“Locally, we had some really talented white guys. I don’t know what happened afterwards, but it definitely does not mean we don’t have talented white footballers in this country. It seems they just took a back seat.
“Why they no longer have interest in football, I honestly don’t have an answer to that. Maybe it’s the squabbles that usually characterise our game that have kept them away.
“But I strongly believe we have some talented guys out there. We have seen that in schools football, but why they don’t go on to try their luck at clubs like Dynamos, CAPS United or FC Platinum, I don’t know.”
Harare City is coached by Ryan’s father, Mark.
Ryan made his professional debut with English side Swansea City in 2004.
He had also played youth football with Swansea development, Oxford United, Sheffield United and South Africa’s Santos Cape Town.
He spent six years playing professional football in England between 2004 and 2010 before joining South African sides Santos, Bidvest, Chippa and Golden Arrows. He had a clean sheet in his first game in Zimbabwe, a draw against Black Rhinos.
“I am pleased it’s a clean sheet for him (Ryan). But you know I will look at the bigger picture. I know what Ryan can do and have no problems in playing him,” said his father Mark.
Harare City has also roped in St. Johns midfield teenage prodigy Calum English-Brown who is likely to don the Sunshine Boys colours this year after he was named on their juniors’ quota.