Danai Chitakasha Special Correspondent
I STRONGLY believe that all the players who have graced our football fields deserve respect. In their various capacities, they have made Zimbabwean football what it is today.
Many played the game in very difficult circumstances and for little reward. They did it for the love of the game and this includes those who played at the lowest level to those gifted enough to wear the green and gold of the senior national team — the Warriors.
I applaud their efforts, they contributed to the rich narrative which is Zimbabwe Football. Allow me, however, in this article to pick 10 legends who were key protagonists in the drama. I have to be clear that this is not a list of the best since Independence, it is a list which simply acknowledges the centrality of their contribution to the Zimbabwe Football theme.
- Japhet Mparutsa and Stanley Ndunduma — I have decided to talk about these two together. When Zimbabwe gained her Independence in April 1980, there was fresh hope and great optimism among the people. The potential of the young nation also transmitted itself into the sporting arena. In women’s field hockey, the “Golden Girls” won gold at the Moscow Olympic Games. In football the young nation won an Invitational tournament which included Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.
There was an acceptance, however, that elders such as George “Mastermind” Shaya were on the wane. Independence had come a bit too late for him.
However, a group of young players emerged which gave the nation a reason to be optimistic.
Japhet Mparutsa emerged at Dynamos as a fresh faced teenager and by 1982 he was crowned the Soccer Star of the Year. This was a prestigious award then and for a 19-year- old goalkeeper to clinch the prestigious award was an unbelievable feat. He became the first goalkeeper to do so and for that he deserves a place on this list.
“Shortcat”, as he was known, was an agile goalie whose super aerial abilities defied his short stature. He played for Dynamos and was a pioneer player of Black Rhinos Football Club in 1983. He literally made the number one spot in the senior national team his for close to a decade.
What a career he had.
The other fresh faced youngster was Stanley Ndunduma, nicknamed Sinyo. At 20, he clinched the Soccer Star of the Year award in 1981. He played for CAPS United and was also a founding member of Black Rhinos.
For the senior national team, he was known “evergreen” and for 10 years he made the right-wing position his own.
Stanley Ndunduma was some talent.
- Moses Chunga — Nicknamed “The Razorman”, he arrived at Dynamos when the team and its proclaimed 7 million supporters were still mourning the departure of Hamid Dhana, Eddie Matsika, Simon Mugabe, Lovemore Chikunha, Japhet Mparutsa and David Mukahanana to Black Rhinos. Many among the rank and file suspected deliberate sabotage by the army side to destroy their club and supplant it with the army side.
But this bitterness soon dissipated with the arrival of Chunga, Kenneth Jere and John Zhaneiro. It was Chunga who immediately wowed supporters with his amazing ball control, passing, dribbling and goal scoring abilities. To say he mesmerised them will be an understatement. He literally put up camp in their hearts.
Many came to the stadium just to see Chunga. Scoring 46 goals in one season enhanced his folk hero status and his transfer to Belgium earned his team some much-needed cash to advance its cause. Some investments were made but unfortunately future leaders failed to secure the properties.
What a shame!
The Razorman, what a player and what a personality. A man who shoots straight from the hip. He shaped the football discourse with his legendary quote: “I will not play for peanuts…”
A Chunga story cannot be complete without him speaking truth to power.
Chunga also captained the Warriors.
- Shacky Tauro — Known as “Mr. Goals”, he was a finisher par excellence. Many strikers have emerged from our football but the benchmark is always against Tauro. He scored all types of goals: headers, diving headers, bicycle kicks, tap ins and thunderbolts. He was a complete package.
In the Zimbabwean football story, when fans think of goals, they often think about Tauro. He played for CAPS United and the Warriors.
- Joel Shambo — Nicknamed “The Headmaster, Mwalimu, Jubilee”, he is pivotal to the Zimbabwean football story because of the way he stayed loyal to CAPS United.
After the departure of Stanley Ndunduma and Stanford “Stix’’ Mutizwa to Black Rhinos, Shambo could have moved too. Offers from the security services teams like Blue Swallows came but Shambo decided to stay.
I still wonder what could have happened if he had decided to move. Senior players at CAPS United like Tauro and Friday Phiri were struggling with injuries and Shambo had to be at his best to help the team. He guided a lot of young players who emerged like Oscar Motsi, Tobias Sibanda and Joe “Kode’’ Mugabe, among others.
For helping to keep the CAPS United ship afloat, Shambo deserves to be on this list.
- Madinda Ndlovu — I think Madinda had the same impact at Highlanders like Moses Chunga at Dynamos.
He was the fresh faced youngster at Bosso who gave the fans a reason to believe. His scintillating performances on the wings excited the fans and helped to open the doors for many youngsters to emerge. At a family level he opened the door for Adam, his young brother, and a few years later for Peter.
The Madinda impact at Bosso was immense, he gave the team renewed hope and belief. He was the young turk who led the revival of Bosso.
- Peter Ndlovu — He entered the scene as a mere 16-year-old, terrorising defenders with his pace and dribbling artisary. By 18, he was crowned Soccer Star of the Year in 1990 before repeating the feat in 1991. He did not linger on the local scene and joined Coventry City in England. In England, he terrorised defences and scored some beautiful goals. His hat-trick against Liverpool at Anfield embedded him into English football history.
Peter captained the Warriors to their first AFCON appearance in Tunisia in 2004. He also earned 100 caps and scoring 34 goals. His captaincy also extended to him digging into his pocket to help his less fortunate team-mates.
Peter is indeed central to the Zimbabwe Football Narrative.
We called him “Nsunkusonke, Everyday Wonder” for a reason
- Bruce Grobbelaar — When Reinhard Fabisch, the German mentor, was manager of the Dream Team (Zimbabwe) he pulled a tactical masterstroke. He brought back Bruce Grobbelaar, the former Liverpool goalkeeper who was now at Southampton.
Although “The Jungleman” was no longer at his dominating best, he had an incredible impact on the national psyche, he brought about unity.
For the first time in a long time, the Zimbabwe national team was supported by all the races in the country. Asians and Whites, who rarely attended football matches, suddenly came out of their hiding places to support the national team. There was an amazing show of unity with fans from various places congregating at the National Sports Stadium to watch the Dream Team.
The unity exhibited, however, dissipated when the Warriors failed to qualify for either the African Cup of Nations or World Cup finals under Fabisch. Everyone went back to their shells, especially the White and Asian fans.
But for a while, the pulling power of Bruce had created a truly “rainbow nation” at the National Sports Stadium.
- Memory Mucherahowa — Nicknamed “Mwendamberi’’, he captained Dynamos for close to 12 years. He won various championships with the Glamour Boys, earning the respect of friends and foes alike.
In 1998, Dynamos had an incredible run in the CAF Champions League competition. They reached the final which they unfortunately lost to Asec Mimosa of Cote d’Ívoire.
“Gwenzi”, as Memory is also known, showed how pivotal he was to the Dynamos cause when he was head-butted by an opponent, resulting in him spending the night in hospital after that final.
Without their captain, Dynamos were lost. To date, fans still wonder, could the result have been different if Memo had been on the pitch and not on a hospital bed?
We will never know but it goes to show the centrality of the captain to the Dynamos cause.
- Benjani Mwaruwari — “The Undertaker’’ helped to shape the football narrative of Zimbabwe.
Wherever he played, he had an impact, South Africa, Switzerland, France and England. Benjani is the first Zimbabwean to score in the prestigious Uefa Champions League. He is also the first to play and score in the respected Manchester Derby. He scored a goal for Manchester City which sank fierce rivals Manchester United.
At Portsmouth he remains a cult hero.
Mwaruwari also captained the Zimbabwe Warriors and he often dipped into his pocket to support his team. I remember at one point he arranged a training camp for the team in France.
- Knowledge Musona — The recently retired Warriors captain deserves a place in this list. He played for the Warriors for 12 years and also captained the team. Musona earned 51 caps and scored 28 goals.
Nicknamed “The Smiling Assassin”, his leadership in Zimbabwean football is secure. Twice he led the Warriors to the prestigious AFCON finals. Although he was struggling with injuries, his commitment was never in doubt.
His leadership credentials were also tested due to the endless strikes which dogged the Warriors camp. It must have been a heavy load to carry on his young shoulders.
He will be missed as he enjoys his much earned retirement.
Indeed, every player contributed to the development of the game. There are those, however, who have been pivotal in shaping the football narrative. They are many, but for purposes of space I will go with these 10.
Dear reader, let us have the discussion!