EXACTLY five years ago, the finest cricket writer and broadcaster of our time, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, finally lost his brave battle with cancer and died surrounded by his close family members at home in Essex at the age of 67. For all his mastery of the analysis of both the written and spoken of the gentleman’s game, CMJ – just like every other human being – was not a perfect specimen.
Also known as the Major, his biggest weakness was a frustrating habit of never keeping time and repeatedly arriving late not only for the very assignments he was supposed to cover, but for just about everything he did in his private life.
That usually meant, in his rushed attempts to make up for lost time, he made a number of monumental boobs like arriving at Lord’s Cricket Ground when the match he was supposed to cover was going on at the Oval, which in our football case is like going to the National Sports Stadium when the game was at Gwanzura.
Or, as the case one day during a tour of Jamaica, taking the remote control of his hotel room television with him under the innocent assumption that it was his mobile phone, which he had left in that very room as he rushed out to try and catch up with others on a road trip from Kingston to Montego Bay.
“The late Christopher Martin-Jenkins. We always said it had a pertinent ring to it because that is what he generally was. And that’s what he is now,” Mike Selvey, The Guardian’s cricket correspondent wrote in probably the most powerful opening paragraph of an obituary l have ever read.
“Farewell my dear CMJ, broadcaster, writer, colleague, friend, travelling and dining companion and golfing partner.
“Throughout his entire working life, the Major championed cricket and cricketers of all abilities. The game has lost perhaps the best friend it ever had.
“For many years, he had not just been colleague, but friend, travelling and dining companion and golfing partner. If ever I write an autobiography, I once told him, I shall call it ‘WAITING FOR THE MAJOR,’ because that is what I seemed to spend much of my time doing. To this day, I have a text template specifically for him that reads: ‘Where the f**k are you?’”
This week, the British media bombarded the world with stories about that plane crash in Munich 60 years ago to this month, which wiped out a generation of some of the finest footballers to play for Manchester United.
And of course, a number of special articles were reserved too for the journalists who perished in that crash, including Donny Davies, The Guardian’s chief football correspondent in Manchester, whom we were told was the son of an orphanage boy, went on to survive a German Prisoner of War camp during World War II, only to lose his life in the wreckage of Flight 609.
We were told, this week, of how Donny loved classical music, poetry, art, theatre and ballet and, before he became a football writer, he used to be a headmaster.
Henry Rose, the Daily Express journalist, who also died in that crash, was a larger-than-life Jaguar-driving character, while Tom Jackson of the Manchester Evening News, Frank Swift of the News of the World, George Follows of the Daily Herald, Archie Ledbrooke of the Daily Mirror and Eric Thompson of the Daily Mail also perished in that crash.
Follows, we were told this week, even made 510 appearances for Manchester City and had 33 caps for England, who was even persuaded -without success – by the then Manchester United manager Matt Busby to come out of retirement and play for the Red Devils.
AMHLOPE MHLOPHE, BUT SOMETHING JUST DOESN’T ADD UP
Congratulations to Kenneth Mhlophe, the new chairman at Highlanders, and hopefully this good man will help this iconic football institution to get back on its feet and end its longest barren spell without a league title since the advent of the domestic Premiership.
A dozen years without a league title is too long for such a massive club and, hopefully, Mhlophe, a self-made successful businessman, will get it right for Bosso to return to the podium of champions.
What I can’t understand, though, is how the powerful position of chairman of Highlanders doesn’t attract a lot of people – given it’s a very important seat in domestic football – to vie for it every time elections are around the corner.
Why should it attract, as has become the norm in recent years, only two people to vie for such a big post with the chairman usually elected unopposed when the expectation should be that scores of competent individuals would really want to lead this powerful institution? Why are some of the most competent leaders, who belong to this institution, suddenly not finding it attractive to throw their hat into the ring and fight for the right to lead this massive football club?
Our colleagues at the Chronicle even noted this week that just 180 members were part of the Bosso Congress last Sunday – the lowest number in four years – and why is there this growing apathy towards issues that can really define the future of this institution?
They said 268, 88 fans more than the number of those who took part in Sunday’s congress, were actually turned away from a similar meeting in 2009, when Themba Ndlela took over as chairman and 350 members were present at the 2012 congress.
Highlanders is part and parcel of the DNA of Zimbabwean football and it’s very worrying when such apathy, both in the race for its leadership and the numbers coming to define its future, become the norm.
You have to give credit to these British fellows, if not for the way they value the lives of those they lost along the way, then for the way they defiantly refuse to let the memories of these people to be washed away by the passage of time.
On the fifth anniversary of the year the Major died, his colleagues within the English cricket writing stubbornly fraternity refuse to let the legacy of their colleague to be buried by the changing of the seasons and the passing of time.
“The air of chaos that followed him at every turn merely added to his popularity. When he wrote in his autobiography that he had ‘never grown up’, he meant it as a compliment to cricket’s capacity to keep him young,’’ The Daily Mail noted.
“CMJ was always generous, even when he would have been forgiven for running out of generosity altogether.’’
THEY REALLY MAKE A MOCKERY OF US, DON’T THEY?
While 60 years down the line, the current generation of English football writers have defiantly refused to let the memory and work of their colleagues, who perished in that plane crash in Munich while accompanying Manchester United on that tour of duty, we seem to be in a rush to ensure the memory and work of colleagues we lost just a few years ago be drained away by the passage of time.
No one among us, as a sports journalism community, dares to remind the current generation of listeners of football being commentated on radio, as boring as it has become these days, where both quality and substance is in short supply, that we used to have someone as good as Evans Mambara, who could make fans take their little radios to Rufaro and watch the game while also listening to his commentary of that match at the same time.
Boy, oh boy, he was good.
He copied his style from legendary Zambian commentator Dennis Liwewe during his stay in that country, a high-pitched narration of events pregnant with both colour and a voice to suit, and was particularly at his very, very best when he was commentating a game featuring his beloved Black Rhinos, the successful Chipembere side of the ‘80s that won two league championships.
“To Stanley Ndunduma, this is Sinyo, Rhinos attack down the right flank, Sinyo, Sinyo, wide on the wing, takes on one man, beats him clean, what a player, what a talent, driving into the heart of the opponents, this is Sinyo, the cross comes through, to the The Bomber, Maronga Nyangela, a flick, to the Dzunguman, this is Jerry Chidawaaaaaa, it’s a goalllllllllllllllllllll.’’
The lasting impression I will always have of Evans Mambara was one very hot afternoon at the Accra Sports Stadium on July 13, 1997, when he invited me to join him in the commentary box and provide the analysis of the match, he was commentating a game between the Black Stars and the Warriors in a 1998 AFCON qualifier.
He had stripped off his shirt in those steamy conditions and he appeared to be inspired by some kind of supernatural powers, his voice booming in a way as I had never heard it before, his passion for the national team clearly evident, his emotions exploding as he provided a powerful narration of the events unfolding on that field to millions of listeners back home.
And when Shepherd Muradzikwa, the Dragline, as good a midfielder as they will ever come on the domestic football scene, powered home a trademark thunderbolt from a distance to bring us to parity just two minutes after the legendary Abedi Pele had thrust the Black Stars into the lead, Mambara’s explosion at that moment, producing echoes in the silence inside that stadium, was something I will never, ever forget.
Tragically, he was gone a few years later.
The great Choga Tichatonga Gavhure, “kunonoka Moses, vamwe vanga vatopinda nechekare,’’ as he boomed about Moses Chunga on Radio 2 before it became Radio Zimbabwe, what a voice, what a commentator, what a great man.
And we rush to forget the memory of the works of some of the finest football writers whose talents used to provide this country with graphic images, using the power of words of what would have transpired at our football stadiums.
The immortal Alan Hlatshwayo, a pioneer football writer for all black Zimbabweans, who opened avenues for all of us to pursue our dreams, his competency as a very good journalist breaking the barriers of the racist colonial establishment that used to be in charge of this country back then and helping him gain acceptance among those guys who thought the best we could do was to live in Marimba Park, as a genuine professional.
He started his journey on this newspaper, isolated by whites in the newsroom and distinguished himself as a very, very good writer and his promotion to the post of first black Sports Editor of this newspaper – a position that has only been occupied by two other fellow blacks since him, including yours truly, in an extraordinary statistic for this 121-year-old iconic establishment.
He ended his journey surrounded by many fellow black journalists, who respected him, if not for his professionalism, then for how he blazed the trail for them, a great man from Mbare, who – like George Follows of the Daily Herald, who was among the journalists who perished in that Munich plane crash with a record of having made 510 appearances for Manchester City and had 33 caps for England – had once starred for Dynamos.
He mentored a lot of those who have become legends in their own rights, like my colleague Collin Matiza and Charles “CNN’’ Mabika, who – just like Hlatshwayo – are boys from Mbare.
But no one writes and talks about this great man anymore, as if he never existed, as is he never blazed a trail the same way that we tend to be in a hurry to forget Tinaye Garande, Sam Marisa, Phillip Magwaza, Ephraim Masiwa, Lovemore Musharavati, Juzzman Chakamanga and the same way we will soon forget about Jabes Lefani and Paul Mundandi.
In contrast, 60 years down the line, our colleagues in England refuse to let time wash away memories of how their colleagues – who did a lot for this profession and died in that plane crash in Munich – helped define this profession.
SADLY, OURS IS A CLUB FILLED WITH JEALOUSY AND POMPOUS INDIVIDUALS
The sad truth is that ours is a club filled with individuals, whose DNA is dominated by jealous and who are so pompous that they believe they are God’s only gift to this profession and anyone else – before or after them – is irrelevant on the domestic front.
They will tell you Robert Marawa, the SuperSport anchor, is pure class and his closing slogan, “Fala kum shele le,’’ is pure magic while dismissing Charles Mabika as average and his closing slogan, “Remember to take care of yourself and your loved ones, I’m Charles ‘CNN’ Mabika,’’ as pathetic.
They will tell you Sizwe Mabena, the Soccer Africa anchor on SuperSport, is pure class and his closing slogan, “Click, click, bang,’’ is pure magic while dismissing Barry Manandi as average and his closing slogan, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,’’ as pathetic.
It’s a community somehow not happy that one of them, Mike Madoda, is on SuperSport, dismissing him as someone who doesn’t know the game and whose presentation is poor even when he has shown pure class in his presentations and is miles better than many of the foreigners these guys believe are good.
A community somehow not happy that one of them, Steve Vickers, is on SuperSport, dismissing him as a guy whose understanding of local football is limited and whose commentary is poor when he has shown pure class in his presentations and is miles better than many of the foreigners we hear on television.
If we can’t embrace these guys when they are alive, what is the chance of us celebrating their work when they are gone and ensuring that time won’t wash away what they have done for this profession, the way our colleagues in England have been doing this week to mark the 60th anniversary of those who died in that Munich crash?
Amid all this gloom and doom, I retreat to the good world of the good guys, whose good world value what others, who are no longer with them today, made a big impact in this profession and, exactly five years after Christopher Martin-Jenkins, also known as CMJ and the Major, died, I find myself going back to that classic about him by Mike Selvey of The Guardian.
“The 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand became known as the karaoke tour because of the evenings spent seeking out karaoke bars,’’ Selvey writes.
“After the final, in Melbourne, we persuaded the Major to join us and within half an hour of saying he would never do anything like that, he was perched on a stool, crooning ‘Love Letters In The Sand,’ including a whistling bit in the middle.
“God, he was happy that night.’’
To God Be The Glory
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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