The Long Kiss Goodbye IV
Sharuko On Saturday
I WASN’T supposed to be at Sanyati Baptist High School in 1988.
I had chosen Cranborne High School, for my A-Level studies, simply because my uncle, who was a commando, always talked about this school, and suburb, whenever he came back home.
But, after all my hometown colleagues — Solomon Banda and Samuel Mwale — secured places at Santa Blues, they tempted me to join them there.
This meant I had to wait until the deadline, by which all the students, who had been chosen by this school had to report for admission, or lose their place, had elapsed.
So, a week after my colleagues had arrived at this school, I made my low-key arrival, brimming with confidence that my decent O ‘Level results would grab me a place.
When I was finally ushered into the headmaster’s office, the first question he asked me came as a pleasant surprise.
“Young man, can you play football?”
His eyes were firmly transfixed at me, as if they were barking some orders, making it loud and clear to me that he wasn’t joking.
Before I could answer, he started telling me about the school’s football team, how they had largely punched below their weight, over the years, and why he really wanted them to be a success story.
For the next 20, or so minutes, he just kept on talking about football, his passion for the beautiful game and his enduring love affair with Dynamos.
He loved Moses Chunga, he was some form of a football god, he told me, a genius who was way ahead of his time, the best human specimen, on two legs, he had ever seen kicking a ball.
After what appeared to be a gospel, whose preaching would seemingly never end, we came back to the original question, which had sparked this lecture in football.
“Young man, can you play football?”
This time, I had to provide an answer and I did just that.
“Yes sir,” I responded.
“I even believe that, with time, I will be better than Chunga.”
I have never heard a man, in such authority, laugh louder than the roar of laughter which followed my cheeky answer.
Then, when the laughing was over, I told him I thought my hometown hero, David “Chikwama” Mwanza was the best footballer in the country.
He appeared shocked by my response.
But, at the back of my mind, I could tell he was possibly impressed that a rookie student, whose admission at this school depended on his decision, had the guts to question his choice for the best footballer.
It appeared to give me more confidence.
And, I felt I could throw another punch, just to show that I had a good understanding of Zimbabwean football, to impress the headmaster.
I told him one of the biggest regrets I had, when it comes to local football, was that the special and unique talent of Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma didn’t appear to get the respect, which it deserves.
Yes, he had won two Soccer Stars of the Year, during the decade, but I told him I had this feeling that Sinyo deserved a bigger and better profile, among fans, than the one he had.
I argued that if Sinyo had played for Dynamos his true profile would have come out and there would have been a better appreciation of his amazing talent.
I don’t know whether it was the depth of my arguments, or the confident manner in which I expressed myself, even in the presence of authority, which won over the headmaster.
But, when our conversation eventually ended, he rose and told me, using words that I will never forget, “Welcome to Sanyati Baptist, let your light so shine.”
And, just like that, I was a Santa Blue!
As a parting shot, he took a ball from under his desk, threw it at me and ordered me to go to the assembly point, which was just adjacent to his office, for a session.
He wanted me to juggle the ball, for a few minutes, just to convince him, as I had told him earlier in our conversation, it was true that I could, indeed, play football.
’88 WAS A GOOD YEAR, I MADE THE GRADE
Alone, on the wide spaces of the assembly point, there was no hiding place for me and the ball I had been given both for company, and for a thorough examination of my football skills.
The Form Four classes were on my right side, the Form Three classes on the other side.
So, I took off my shoes and, barefooted, flicked the ball with my stronger right foot, took it with my weaker left, performed one or two tricks, which was regular stuff for someone brought up on a diet of street football.
No one needed to tell me that I had nailed it.
The round of applause from the Form Four students was everything and, for good measure, the last touch was one flicked to the headmaster, with a headed pass, for transfer of the ownership of the ball.
On that day, in 1988, football — from general knowledge of the game, the amazing courage to challenge the headmaster on matters related to this game and a flick or two at that assembly point — defined my future.
Little did I know, back then, that it was the beginning of a special relationship, with this game, which would dominate my life.
Maybe, it was just meant to be because, in that year, in ’88, Zimbabwe Saints became the first club, from outside Harare, to win the league championship, in the era of Independence.
The football gods must have been sending a message, both to me, and this school, which had just accepted me as its latest student.
In 1966, when it was founded, a club from Murehwa, St Paul’s Mission, became the first team, from outside Harare and Bulawayo, to be crowned league champions, in this country.
For the next half-a-century, no other club, from outside the two biggest cities, found a way to repeat the magic of Father Davies and his St Paul’s Musami supermen.
On a number of occasions, they came close to winning the league title but, now and again, fate appeared to conspire against their cause.
Mhangura only lost the 1971 league championship to Arcadia United by just a point, John Rugg’s golden generation of Rio Tinto players, led by the magical Joseph Zulu, twice came close, just after Independence.
They were the best of the rest, as a dominant DeMbare side won their second league title, on the bounce, in 1981 and were only beaten by goal difference, after finishing with the same number of points (36), as the Glamour Boys, in 1983.
That was my Rio Tinto, too, because it was my father’s favourite club, where he used to take me to watch the big clubs from Harare and Bulawayo, in the top-flight league matches.
They were the ultimate combination of gems and steel, beauty and the beast, Zulu was the magician, ‘keeper Raphael Phiri provided the assurance in the last line of defence, Abraham Mwanza was such a massive pillar of strength we called him ‘Chimamuna.’
Then, they had Robert Godoka, sheer class, Barnabas Likombola, who provided the X-Factor, Victor Mapanda, a natural goal-scorer, Ephert Lungu, a natural leader who was crowned Soccer Star of the Year in 1983.
In 2011, FC Platinum appeared to be on a coronation roadshow, to the league championship, until the Glamour Boys came to Mandava, in the penultimate match of the championship, and struck a mortal blow.
They never recovered and, the following week, Dynamos were celebrating the league title again, thanks to a superior goal difference, after both clubs ended with an identical 58 points.
It didn’t matter that FC Platinum had scored more goals than any other club in the league (44), in the end it came to the defence, the 15 goals conceded by DeMbare, compared to the 21 they conceded, making all the difference.
But, nothing lasts forever.
In 2017, the football gods decided it was time to end the long suffering of the clubs from outside the two big cities and FC Platinum were crowned champions.
Their finest hour came exactly a year after the celebrations to mark Sanyati Baptist’s Golden Jubilee, had ended in 2016.
And, as if the football gods were compensating them for the pain they suffered, when they self-destructed in 2011, the team which beat them to the title that year, Dynamos, had to finish second.
The Glamour Boys won 21 games that season, the best return by any of the 18 clubs in the league, and scored the highest number of goals (55), but — just like FC Platinum in 2011 — it was not enough to win them the league title.
The 70 points they garnered that season, in finishing two points behind FC Platinum, would have been good enough to win them the championship by eight clear points, during the 2019 season.
The Zvishavane side appear set to win a fourth straight league title, which will seal their immortality, and it couldn’t have come in a better year.
After all, the domestic top-flight league championship is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its first marathon, in 1962, which was won by Bulawayo Rovers, after a 1-0 win over Salisbury City, in the grand finale on October 14, that year.
They can now even donate three of their league titles to Rio Rinto, Mhangura and Hwange to console them, for the seasons they came very close to being champions, only to run into the hurdles created by the Big Boys of the Big Cities.
WHEN AN ENTIRE SCHOOL DREAMT
Okay, so there I was at Sanyati Baptist in the first term of 1988, which was quite short for us Lower Sixth students, given we had arrived after our colleagues had long started their studies.
With athletics dominating the first term, it meant that I was never tested, in terms of what I had told my headmaster that, indeed, I was quite a very good footballer.
There were good signs, though, for him because, in terms of pace, I was only the second fastest fellow at the school, behind a guy called Gift Kofi.
With that pace to burn, the headmaster was convinced that, given the control I had provided a glimpse of, during that assembly point demonstration, I would be a terrier to defenders.
He even had an idea of where I would play in the team, as the spearhead of our attack, when the football season returned, in term two.
He even shared his formation with the coach — Kofi would play wide on the right, Solo would anchor the defence, Sidwell Madziva would control the midfield and I would supply the goals.
In his final assembly address, just before we left for the holidays, he was so bullish that he told the entire school that he could hardly wait for the second term to come by.
Because, as he put it, there were some football gems, who had arrived at the school, who were going to change the face, and destiny of our team, for good.
By then, the whole school, in one way or the other, had heard about me, even though I was, at that time, the last of the Lower Sixth students to arrive.
They had been told that a football genius had arrived on their doorstep and, come the following term, they would be singing the name of their new hero.
Most of these messages had been spread by the headmaster, especially in his conversation with his teaching staff, who then in turn would then pass the same message to their students.
So, when I went home for the first term holiday, it was quite clear that I left behind a school, which was buzzing with expectations, that destiny had somehow ensured they would enjoy the presence, up close and personal, of a football star.
Then, everything collapsed, in that month, which I spent on holiday, back home.
A freak incident, in which I damaged my ankle ligaments, after stepping into a hole as I walked back home in the darkness, meant that the highly-anticipated return to school, to parade my skills and justify all the buzz which was following me, would be a damp squib.
The party had ended before it had even started.
I still remember the thunder, disguised as the face of my headmaster, which greeted me on the first day that I limped back to the assembly point, for his first address of the second term.
There was a feeling I had betrayed everyone, including my fellow students, with that freak incident and, from being a golden boy, from whom so much was expected, I could tell that I had become some sort of a villain.
When the first game came around, I volunteered to get onto the tractor, which was ferrying the supporters to the away match, despite my physical challenges.
Koffi’s explosion that day, in a one-man destruction act, provided our school with something to cheer its spirits and lift the dark cloud brought about the circumstances, which had led to my failure to make my highly-anticipated bow.
It became clear to me, on that day, that Koffi was far, far way better than me.
And, there was a strange sense of relief, in a way, that my injury had ensured I would not be exposed, by this genius, that I wasn’t the footballer whose picture the headmaster had painted in gold colours.
At least, they could only wonder, and it’s something which provided me with a lot of comfort.
But, something big happened that day.
I thought about our students, who had not made the trip to that away game, who were the larger constituency, about 95 percent of the school population.
All these guys, I told myself, had not enjoyed the luxury of watching this fine footballer, who was also new to the school just like me, in full flight.
And, so, this idea filtered into my mind — why don’t I compile a match report of this game, describing how this new Santa Blue hero had destroyed the opposition?
I convinced the headmaster I could give an accurate description of the events, which had unfolded at that match away from home, through reading my match report in front of the school assembly.
It has never been done before and, as I limped my way to the front of the assembly, I could feel the tension among both the teachers and the students.
On that winter day, in ’88, deep in the jungles of Sanyati, where the edges of Mashonaland West kiss the boundaries of the Midlands, the journalist in me was born.
The headmaster had signed a football star and he had got a football journalist.
Life, what a journey, 34 years later, I’m still exactly what did, on that morning, at Santa Blues.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton, Daily Service, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and all the Chakariboys still in the struggle.
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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