THE first big hint came in the main reception of the Yadah Hotel, one bright moonlit evening last year, the sound of water oozing from the giant water wheel, as it crashed into the pool beneath, occasionally breaking the tranquillity that had replaced the madness generated by a relentless wave of the human traffic earlier that afternoon. There were only the two of us in that main reception that evening when, for the first time since I had started to interact with him from close quarters and on a regular level, he released a volley of emotions in a graphic portrayal of both his disappointment and disbelief at what had happened.
The source of his explosive frustration that day was the news that the leaders of the corruption-ridden Chitungwiza Municipality had just turned down his offer to renovate Chibuku Stadium for his team to use as their base for their league matches.
The second big hint came one afternoon, a few months later, on the concrete stands of the football stadium which sits in the shadows of the northern main wing of this same state-of-the-art hotel in the Prospect area of Harare’s Waterfalls suburb.
There were five of us on this occasion — a lawyer who had been handed the responsibility to lead his football project, his closest lieutenant in his ministry who had been tasked with the role of chief executive of the team and a guy who was the club’s consultant — and when I joined them the discussions had been going on for about an hour.
His team had just lost a game he maintained they should never have lost, if his coaches had followed the strategies they had discussed in training all week and saying his good name was being now being dragged into the mud by a bunch of losers who didn’t stick to instructions, told us he was getting fed up with this football project and how it was not only tainting his image, but wreaking his emotions.
The third big hint came in the snooker area, adjacent the luxurious VVIP suites at the same hotel complex, where — more often than not when he wants some relaxation after a typically busy day of different engagements — he derives a lot of joy playing the eight-ball pool game.
There were more than a dozen people there, which is usually the case when he is playing, a number of his aides making the biggest chunk of this constituency but, when he decided to express his feelings, he asked me to accompany him for a walk.
Away from this group, he told me he couldn’t understand why there was so much toxicity in domestic football, a beautiful game that should be used as a huge unifying weapon and even though his project was providing the players, their coaching staff and their families with salaries to live a decent life, the amount of hatred this was generating for him from some quarters was surprising.
The rampant belief in juju by a lot of the characters in the game, which was duly confirmed by legendary former Dynamos skipper Memory Mucherahowa in his autobiography “Soul Of A Seven Million Dreams,’’ was something that really disturbed him.
Surrounded by the walls of his hotel complex, away from the razzmatazz that usually follows him everywhere he goes, he usually cuts a figure of a man happy to once again get the freedom of privacy, of course, fully aware that this is just, but a temporary reprieve from a life in which he lives in the public domain and every step he makes out there is closely watched and every word he utters is intensely scrutinised.
Of course, along the way, there were a number of other hints, here and there, but none as pronounced as was the case on those three occasions.
Like one Sunday April morning when, after having received a call from one of his aides asking if it was possible I could come to their training ground, I arrived to find him busy conducting drills for his players just a day after they had returned home from an away assignment in Gweru the previous day where they had held Chapungu to a 1-1 draw.
When the session was done he came to where I was sitting and started complaining about how the PSL leadership were rejecting his pleas for his team, then unbeaten in their first four league matches, to fulfil their next fixture, a blockbuster home showdown against Dynamos, on a Saturday when he could invite some of his ministry’s followers to come and watch that big match.
Instead, he said, the PSL bosses remained adamant his men should play on a Sunday because SuperSport had already booked to cover that game on that day, an arrangement he wasn’t comfortable with because it’s a day they reserve for their main weekly church service.
“How much do we get as a club from this SuperSport deal?” he asked one of his club’s officials.
“About $5 000 per year,” came the reply, itself loaded by the uncertainty of the accuracy of the amount, but all the same not very far from the truth of the meagre annual pickings from that deal.
“Okay, so we are being sacrificed for $5 000 that comes once a year?” he said. “Then tell the PSL that we don’t want our share and they can donate it to a children’s home and make sure that Yadah TV will also bid for these rights when this deal ends.”
A MAN WHO SHARPLY DIVIDED OPINION, BUT WHO CAME WITH
Walter Magaya, the football-loving prophet who announced this week he was terminating his sponsorship of his Premiership club Yadah Stars after just a year of their flirtation with the top-flight league, endured it all in the turbulent world of our top-flight league in the season it celebrated its Silver Jubilee.
From his team’s “Miracle Goal” against ZPC Kariba, enjoying the beauty of the romance that comes with even going to the top of the table in the championship race, the joy of beating the defending league champions (CAPS United) good enough to eliminate five-time African champs TP Mazembe from the Champions League, to parading a teenage forward good enough to be invited for trials with a Benfica side still looking to mine the next diamond as good as the immortal Mozambican Eusebio from Africa.
Then there was the humiliation of that seven-goal battering at the hands of Bantu Rovers at Luveve — when his men were so ordinary their performance that afternoon was both an aberration and an insult to everything that the Premiership should represent — to their flirtation with relegation at the end of the season.
And the controversy generated by his decision to send his men into battle against Bantu without their head coach, coupled with their massacre, provoked a wave of fury from both the domestic football’s coaching fraternity and a number of journalists who argued he was reducing the Premiership into something close to a social league.
But rather than weigh him down, this condemnation enlisted a streak of defiance from him as he even issued a public statement he considered himself to be even a better coach who could do a far better job coaching his team than the majority of the CAF A licensed coaches.
And all this simply added to feed the script of a theatre rich in far more than what this game had expected when his team came into the elite league.
Magaya’s one-year flirtation with the domestic Premiership might have sharply divided opinion, and understandably so for a man of such a huge public profile, and even now, after the announcement he was stepping away from sponsoring Yadah Stars, there has been a chorus from some who have been saying his pockets have run dry in a game where running a club, especially for an individual, is quite a very expensive thing to do.
After all, they have been saying the history of the domestic Premiership is pregnant with a number of characters who came as individual sponsors of their clubs and ran into serious financial troubles, including some who slipped into bankruptcy, at the end of it.
I don’t know about Magaya’s financial muscle because he has never publicly claimed to be a very rich man, something which he repeated in that sober reaction to radio claims by socialite Ginimbi that he was richer than the prophet, telling our sister tabloid H-Metro his only wealth was his strong relationship with his Lord and the people who believe in his ministry.
But what I know, having had the privilege of gaining his trust and confidence during his time in the top-flight league to enable me to go up-close-and-personal with him on a number of occasions, is that he was a good man to our domestic Premiership.
Like everybody else, he might have made mistakes, sometimes letting his fiery passion to ensure that his team quickly established itself among the giants of the game in the league get the better of his usually calm judgment, by making some controversial decisions related to its coaching set-up.
But that should not, in any way, cloud the fact that he really cared for the game, and to me that is what matters the most, because it’s a terrain where the romantic era of the individual owners of local clubs has been seemingly coming to an end.
He badly wanted to make a difference and that is why he adopted the scientific approach to training sessions for his team from the word go, including using a drone that would collect all the material about who was doing what, which would be analysed later with those who were not performing to expectations being asked to do more.
That is why he invested in the building of his stadium at his hotel complex, which became a training ground for the Warriors when he opened doors to them to camp there for free, and when you consider that some of our biggest football clubs have never realised the wisdom of investing in building their stadiums all these years, content with the set-up where they are fleeced by the ruthless municipalities, you can see he was not cut from the same cloth of mediocrity that makes some of the football leaders we have become used to.
I don’t know if, in the next 10 years or so, we are going to get someone who comes into our Premiership and says that he wants to renovate Chibuku, he wants to renovate Sakubva, he wants to renovate Mucheke, he wants to renovate Luveve because he wants his team to play in a stadium that is consistent with their status as a Premiership club.
It might happen, but I doubt that.
There will be a lot said about Magaya, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, and in our poisoned environment, if you see something good in someone whom the other person doesn’t like for one reason or another then you are being paid to do that, but for some of us who had the privilege of gaining his trust during his flirtation with our Premiership, he was certainly an exceptionally good man who was ahead of our times, didn’t accept the mediocrity we have come to accept as standard and wanted to lead the way in making some big changes.
The domestic Premiership will be poorer without him and as Barry Manandi would say, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it, even though I know there will be whispers and even tweets to my boss to suggest I’m singing for my supper.
To God Be The Glory
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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