TOMORROW I will turn 50 and, if I was as rich as Neymar, I would have thrown a wild party, and invited Rihaana, who turns 32 on Thursday, to provide music for the occasion.
And, before she went on stage, I would treat my guests to a football song “Team Hombe,’’ which I wrote, which I would sing alongside my guy Stunner:
“At first, the fame was with mudhara Ernest Kamba
Then the game was briefly illuminated by Denver Mukamba
But the big money went to Marvelous Nakamba
Thanks to the prayers from Baba Charamba
“At Kwayedza, their stories were written by Patrick Shamba
At Parade, their heroics were captured by Shepherd Mutamba
At The Herald, the articles were told by Collin Matiza
Before he was joined, there, by a guy called Phillip Magwaza
“Tauya Murewa, Jonah Murewa, Murewa makaoma
Romario and Aluvah used to sing kana zvichinge zvaoma
Madinda Ndlovu, Adam Ndlovu, Peter Ndlovu, Boy Ndlovu
Were names you would hear at B/F kana mutambo waoma
“Back in the day when Bruce played for Liverz
And, the beer we used to smuggle into the stadium was called Skippers
And, after the game, we would go to a show promoted by Chipaz
Indeed, those were the good days of our lives.’’
The guests would have included the world’s biggest football stars, all born in February, here for an exhibition match to celebrate the occasion.
Those born on February 5 – Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Carlos Tevez, Gheorghe Hagi, Adnan Januzaj, Billy Sharp, Patrick Roberts, Rodrigo Palacio, Vedran Corluka, Giovanni van Bronckhost, Stefande de Vrij and Manuel Fernandes – would have made one of the teams.
The other team would have been captained by Peter Ndlovu, the greatest Warrior of all-time, who was also born in February.
It would have featured the likes of Gerard Pique, Mauro Icardi, Memphis Depay, Edinson Cavani, Roberto Baggio, Emmanuel Adebayor, Cirro immobile, Gary Neville and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who were all born in February.
God willing, the King will be 47, just 10 days from today.
A living reminder, if ever our country needs one, of the ultimate patriot, an embodiment of love, fittingly born in the month of love, for one’s country.
No matter its challenges, the harder they were, the more inspired he appeared to become to make a change, to make his people smile, the man who served his nation with the distinction of a true Warrior.
It’s easy to forget that by the time he finally led his Warriors past the barrier that had, in the past prevented them from dining with the aristocrats of the game on the continent, King Peter had been in the jungles – representing his country – for more than a decade.
He was the poster boy of the Dream Team, which tried and failed to clear the final hurdle, but he found a way, and the strength, to deal with the devastating hangover of its doomed campaign, and all the toxic baggage it carried, to reinvent himself as the cool leader at the turn of the millennium.
How he did it, only he can say, sometimes dashing into a waiting car, in his club’s kit straight after a match in England, changing into his formal clothes in a toilet at either Heathrow or Gatwick, then onto a plane for an overnight flight to Johannesburg.
And, then, taking another flight to Harare, arriving home just two, or so hours, before the match and straight into battle.
It’s important to have such a symbol of loyalty to a cause, a nation and a game which, despite the passage of time and the changing of the seasons, will always provide the perfect example of greatness.
Someone who, like King Peter, has stood on the right side of both history and adventure, with his sweat, tears and blood.
And, who – 10 years from now, God willing – can tell his children, how proud he has been of his time on earth.
THE KING WE GOT, THE KING WE DESERVED, THE KING WE SHOULD ADORE
Thirty years ago, ironically, in 1990, King Peter, at the age of 17, became the youngest player to win the Soccer Star of the Year award.
In July 1991, at the age of just 18, he signed for Coventry City and, at the end of that year, became the first player, since George Shaya in 1976/1977, to win the Soccer Star of the Year award back-to-back.
I have always derived a lot of pride in the fact that I was born in the same month as the King – the boy from Makokoba, who was airlifted by the football gods, into football immortality.
Why we haven’t even entertained the idea of having a golden statue, celebrating King Peter’s contribution to our Warriors’ cause, in particular, and our football’s interests, in general, outside the National Sports Stadium, still defies logic for me.
It appears to suggest, especially now as I turn 50 and start seeing things in a different light, that we are a country that doesn’t really value the contribution of a man who gave it his all, for this nation.
A century of games for his country, spread over 16 years, a record 38 goals for the Warriors, the first captain to lead them to the AFCON finals, the first player to score a goal for the team at the Nations Cup finals, what more can one do to deserve such a grand honour?
The one who will always be remembered, a thousand years from now, as the trailblazing genius who had the honour, on August 19, 1992, of being the first African footballer to feature in the English Premiership.
Exactly 10 years later, on September 8, 2002, as if the football gods were celebrating that milestone, fate also ensured this Flying Elephant led his Warriors in the first match of an AFCON campaign that would, eventually, end two decades of tears and pain.
Fittingly, as if some powerful supernatural force was in charge of everything, King Peter provided the assist, for the only goal of that match in a 1-0 win over Mali.
Ten months later, five games and four goals for the King himself, the Warriors finally arrived at the gates of the Promised Land.
Why don’t we seemingly derive a lot of pride that one of us, from humble surroundings in Makokoba, whose family came from the remote settings of Binga, is the one who opened the doors for a galaxy of other African stars?
One hundred and fifty four games in the English Premiership, 34 goals, at an average of 0,22 goals per game, the first visiting player to score a hat-trick at Anfield in three decades on March 14, 1995.
Why should his beautiful story come from foreigners, like Ryan Plant, who wrote on the website www.thesefootballtimes.com as recently as September 13 last year?
“Silverware is often an inducement for greatness, but a lack thereof should never tarnish a player’s claim for the same status,’’ Plant wrote.
“One such player, whose romantic enchantment with the ball at their feet, irrespective of their medals haul, is often the reason why zealots the world over fall for the beautiful game and serves to prove that a stocked trophy cabinet is not always a reliable signature of a timeless footballer.
“With that comes an introduction to Peter Ndlovu – Zimbabwe’s export to English football.
“Ndlovu proved, though, that African players were skilled enough to compete in the early chapters of the Premiership, amidst dreams of an opulent, lavish domicile for England’s elite looking to leave the abominable scenes in football away from the confines of pitch far behind whilst improving the standards on it.”
SOME SAY I NEVER CRITICISED THE KING AND THAT’S BEING BIASED
There are some people who have been critical of me that I never criticise the King, and that’s being biased, and I understand and respect their concerns.
Of course, the King isn’t perfect and, just like you and me, he has his flaws.
Admittedly, there are some things he could have done better and, contrary to what others think, he is someone who accepts criticism, and advice, where it’s due.
Now that I’m 50, I have been reflecting, too, on that and whether, indeed, I have tended to heap him with praise without reminding him where he came terribly short.
For me, it’s a classic case of the Kevin Carter syndrome.
Well, for those who don’t know Kevin Carter, he was a South African photo journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize, the ultimate award in journalism, for an iconic photo he shot in South Sudan.
Had he lived to this day, Carter would have been 60 this year.
He was a member of the four-man Bang Bang Club, who used to go into conflict zones in Africa, and also covered the worst of the bloody incidents during apartheid in South Africa.
While on assignment in Sudan, reeling from armed conflict and famine in March 1993, Carter captured an image of what appeared to be a frail girl, with her head bowed, struggling to crawl to the nearest United Nations food distribution centre.
A vulture, possibly lured by the frailty of the “dying girl” sat just a few metres away, clearly waiting to pounce for a meal should “she” be the latest addition to the statistics of those who had died in that famine. Sold to the New York Times, the picture was published on March 26, 1993, and shocked the world.
Carter won a Pulitzer Prize, the highest honour a journalist can get for his work in the world but, before long, the tough questions started being asked and criticism towards him became rife.
A respected scholar said there were two vultures, at the moment Carter took his iconic photo — the bird, ready to pounce on the “dying girl” and the photographer, ready to make money out of the unfortunate circumstances.
Why didn’t Carter think about chasing the vulture away and lifting the “dying girl,” who was later revealed to have been a boy, to the UN food distribution centre?
What was more important – saving that precious little life, a victim of circumstances beyond its control and comprehension, or jumping onto this opportunity, as Carter did, to make thousands of dollars from the photograph?
Haunted by all this criticism, on July 27, ’94, Carter drove his car to a secluded place in Johannesburg and killed himself, through carbon monoxide poisoning, at the age of 33.
“I’m really, really sorry,’’ he wrote in his suicide note. “The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist.
“I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain . . . of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners . . . I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.’’
Ken Oosterbroek, another member of the Bang Bang Club, had been shot and killed just three months earlier, on July 27, 1994, while covering unrest in Thokoza.
So, unlike Carter, rather than focus on the isolated incidents of negativity, when it comes to King Peter, I decided to focus on how he has cast a light on a country that was badly in need of a hero like him.
And, that’s why, at 50 years, I don’t have to say “I’m sorry,’’ to the King and, as I start my journey on the other side of the Golden Jubilee, I can face the next stage of my life in peace.