Dinner with Loga, the Bhundu Boys, Kenny
Rogers, the Gambler and that whisky bottle
HIS invite, for a dinner date, came through an emissary, maybe, as confirmation — if I needed any — some sort of Cold War had been brewing between the two of us.
In an era, where stories have been piling up, that he has been captured by a powerful shadowy clique, which provides a template for him, as to who he speaks to, trusts and even entertains, nothing can be taken for granted.
Of course, I have seen all this before, in more than a quarter-of-a-century, in these trenches.
Reinhard Fabisch, Rudi Gutendorf, Ian Porterfield, Valinhos, you name them —foreign coaches who came and went, who were initially told I was the ultimate devil, an executioner for these coaches, by some of these dark artists.
The parasites who are specialists, in the industry of both patronage and shameless bootlicking, the ones who always see your towering shadow, just about everywhere they go.
A people who would rather choose to spend hours, spreading falsehoods, about me and, given a choice, would rather spread a satanic gospel, about me, than investing that precious time, to help their kids with homework.
Of course, the truth always has a way, and a time, to force itself from all those nests of lies and, with time, even those coaches get to understand they were being deceived, to fulfil some selfish ends.
It’s something that I have come to live with, perhaps even expect, because it’s the way it is and you simply have to embrace it all, deal with it, like Johnnie Walker, just keep walking.
Okay, there will be a time, and space, to write about all this, one fine day.
This isn’t the week, to waste time on these demons of darkness, when the angels of light were at play, in the stadium that represents the Mecca of our football, where they staged a remarkable fightback.
So, let’s deal with the present — the emissary came, the invite was delivered, and accepted and, in the wave of joy generated by the Warriors’ stunning comeback, against Algeria, we had our dinner.
A candlelit restaurant in Harare, provided the setting, the food was good, and so were the drinks, and the service was amazingly first class.
We sat in a secluded corner, away from the madding crowd, just the two of us and, like Bill Withers’ classic song, of the same name, we could see the crystal raindrops fall.
And, when the moon came shining through, to make those rainbows in our minds, just the two of us, telling each other we could make it if we could try, building castles in the sky.
As I enjoyed the food, occasionally sipping into the wine, I began to tell myself how much life can change, friendships created, suspicions dismissed, in just about 45 minutes of football.
Because, make no mistake about this, if our Warriors hadn’t found a way to launch their spirited comeback on Monday, it’s very unlikely this dinner date would have been possible.
He asked me, if I had any interest in music?
And, I said yes, I am a fan of the Bhundu Boys — Biggie Tembo, Rise Kagona, Shepherd Munyama, David Mankaba and Shakespeare Kangwena.
The boys, who came from the streets of Harare to play before 240 000 fans at Wembley, over three nights of a grand festival of happiness, when they provided the supporting cast for Madonna.
Their spectacular rise, I told him, provided the box-office attraction, which lured me into their corner, while their sensational collapse, under the weight of the combination of bad luck, and tragedy, provided the human storyline that bonded me with them forever.
A graphic reminder that we should never take anything for granted.
Lead singer, Biggie Tembo, hung himself in a psychiatric ward, I told him, Mankaba — with stunning boyish looks and a voice to match — succumbed to Aids-related complications and so did Munyama and Kangwena.
Kagona was a founding member of the band, with a first name that captured the story of their meteoric leap towards greatness, before everything came crashing down.
He would be the figure who perfectly illustrated their downfall, from playing before a quarter-of-a-million people at Wembley, to living in a shelter for the homeless, in the Scottish city of Edinburgh.
Wow, he said, what a story, and he called up to the waitress, said please bring us some more wine, for, according to him, he hadn’t had this beautiful experience, since 1969.
HE WAS INTO MUSIC, TOO, HE TOLD ME, THE CLASSIC STUFF FROM DRGOJEVIC
I asked him, if he also loved music?
And he said, of course, he did, and was a lifelong fan of Oliver Drgojevic, who died in July 2018, after a year-long battle with lung cancer,
I told him Drgojevic’s music really didn’t really appeal to me.
He shook his head, as if to say I didn’t know fine music, and we continued to have our dinner.
I told him there was concern, in some parts of the world, that the good showing by his country’s national team, at the 2018 World Cup finals, had exposed their football’s sympathies towards the racist far-right movement.
I said there was concern, too, that Ognjen Vukojević, their national team assistant coach, said “Slava Ukrainy,’’ a greeting associated with the far-right Ukrainian Insurrection Army.
FIFA fined the coach 15 000 Swiss francs, for that chant, given he appeared to be supporting the UPA, which was blamed for collaborating with the Nazis, during World War II, in the killing of thousands of Jews and Poles.
I told him it was difficult, to argue otherwise, when two members of their national team were captured on video singing the song “Za dom-spremni,” by the far-right band Thompson, in their changing rooms, after beating Argentina in a 2018 World Cup group game.
The last I had checked, I told him, that offensive song started with a phrase which, in his language, was the equivalent of saying “Heil Hitler!”
He said he wasn’t really into all this far-right politics, which explained why he had chosen to work in Africa, where he was at home with the black people, who make the majority of people, on this continent.
He didn’t believe in racism, he told me, that’s why he didn’t insist on bringing his white backroom staff members, to help him here.
“My friend,’’ he told me, “I have worked in Ghana, Sudan, Kenya, Angola and Tanzania in the past decade, these are proud and predominantly black countries, and I was very much at home in each of them.
“To me, the colour of the skin doesn’t matter, we are all human beings, God’s children, right now I am here in Zimbabwe, my team doesn’t have even a single white player but I am okay with that, these are my boys, and I like them a lot.
“My agent is a black man from Cameroon, his name is Robert Moutsinga, so don’t tell me about the right-wing white supremacy nonsense, it doesn’t concern me.
“I’m here to help the Warriors, for me, it’s not about the money, it’s about creating something beautiful, when you want to make a mark as a musician, you don’t join Queen, Guns ‘N’ Roses or U2, these bands made a name for themselves long before you.
“You join an emerging band and you start making a difference and, if you are good enough, the people will buy the records and your band will grow, your legacy will be appreciated even more because, if you win a Grammy with U2, who cares, they have been doing that for the last 25 years.
“If you win a Grammy with the Bhundu Boys, people remember, because they have never won one before and that’s my philosophy, that’s why I chose to be here, to be talking to you today, and having this meal.
“And, by the way, what kind of music do the boys sing, in the team bus, on our way to games? Is that the music of your Bhundu Boys?
“Wow, the music is beautiful and it helps to pump them up and they become free spirits who believe they can beat any team.’’
THE GAMBLER, KENNY ROGERS, WHAT A SONG, WHAT A CLASSIC
And, still, we continued to eat, drink and talk.
I asked him if he was a coach who always takes huge risks, like we saw in his last assignment with our team, someone who was always ready to rock the boat, and come up with some kamikaze line-ups?
Like, for instance, the one that went into battle in his team’s last game, featuring five new players, about half the team, who had not started in the other match, a few days earlier?
And, whether this gung-ho style, which then saw another four players coming in, after the 45-minute mark, replacing 40 percent of the on-field personnel he had sent into battle that day, was now something which would be our new normal?
Whether changing about 10 players, in about 90 minutes, at an average of a substitute every nine minutes, in Algiers and Harare, was a sign of chaos, rather than stability, in his decision-making?
And, whether, more than being a good coach, he was just a reckless gambler?
His face, for the first time during the evening, appeared to be flooded with tension, he seemed to turn pale, possibly angry, probably disappointed and certainly not happy.
For, about five minutes, there was complete silence.
Then, after what looked like an eternity, he asked me if I knew about Kenny Rogers, the country music icon, who died this year?
I said, of course, I knew him, he died in March, the same month his Warriors’ adventure was supposed to start.
Then, he said, you know what, on this warm summer evening, just start imagining you are Kenny Rogers, on that train bound for nowhere, and you have met up with the gambler, and we are both too tired to sleep.
So, he said, let’s keep taking turns at staring, out of the window at the darkness, until boredom finally overtook us, and, he began to speak:
“Son, I’ve made a life, out of reading other coaches’ faces, knowing what their cards were, by the way they held their eyes, so if you don’t mind my saying, I can see you’re out of aces, for a taste of your whisky, I will give you some advice.”
So, I handed him my bottle, and he drank down my last swallow, bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light.
And, as the night got deathly quiet, his face lost all expression, and he started singing:
If you want to know how I play the game, boy, you got to learn to play it right, you got to know when to play them, know when to bench them, know when to tell them to walk away and know when to tell them to run.
“You should never count your points, or concede defeat, when the game is still on, there will always be time enough for scoring, before the deal is done.
“Every good coach knows, the secret to surviving, is knowing which player to throw away and knowing which player to keep, because any substitute can produce a winner, and every ‘keeper could see you end as a loser.
“For, in this tough game, the best that any coach can hope for, is to die in his sleep.”
And, when he finished singing, he said every Warrior is a gambler, because, everytime they get into battle, no one knows how it will end.
Moments later, a waiter came along, to tell us the restaurant would close, in exactly eight minutes’ time and, if we wanted, we could have our last orders.
“That’s the time we scored on Monday, isn’t it, eight minutes left?’’ he thundered.
And, I said, “Yes coach, you are right, in the 82nd minute, that’s when the Pretty Prince scored.’’
He smiled, for the first time that evening, telling me in his dispensation, only those who showed the desire, would play, no one would get a place because of historical performances.
Then, he turned back towards the window, crushed out his cigarette and faded off to sleep.
And, somewhere in that darkness, my thoughts drifted to Monday, 0-2 down after 38 minutes, his gamble to bring in four fresh faces just after the break, then the Pretty Prince, and realised what a gambler he is.
And, in his final words, I found an ace that I could keep.
I should know when to walk away and, so, I took my jacket and left that restaurant, leaving him to enjoy his rest, which the joint’s manager said he deserved, after his team’s heroics on Monday.
As I drove home, I could still hear his words, telling me this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning of our time as football lightweights on this continent.
Boy, I was so happy!
That, is, until a powerful bolt of lightning woke me up yesterday, only for me to realise, this had all been just a dream.
But, who cares, dream or reality, when you are in the presence of the ultimate gambler?
Time for some music, of course, the Bhundu Boys and that means only one song, “Simbimbino”, the nickname used to belong to Oscar Motsi, but now it could go to anyone — Tino, Prince, Jordan, you name them.
And, my dinner companion said we are about to rock and roll, to have the days of our lives, how do you argue with such a gambling wizard?
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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