“IF we have to choose between the Sabbath and football, we will choose the Sabbath. Football laws are made by people; the Sabbath was written by the finger of God!” This statement was made by Felix Matsika, the team manager of flamboyant and well-resourced team Amazulu Football Club. These words which he delivered with a conviction rooted on religious principles captured the battle between the Delma Lupepe-owned outfit and the local Premier Soccer League authorities.
In the end the football club lost its battle to stay in the league. Who was to blame? Some will blame religious intransigence; others will blame the PSL inflexibility.
This is a debate for another day.
What cannot be denied is that the demise of Amazulu Football Club was a big loss to the players and fans. Indeed, when two elephants fight, it is the grass which suffers. We still miss the once cash rich club. That statement made by Matsika will go down in our football history as one of the most unforgettable ever made by an official. It marked the end of an era. Allow me to use it as a starting point of my discussion today as I focus on the unforgettable quotes in our football story.
I will pick 10 (including Matsika’s) and hopefully others can add some more as we continue our effort to capture all aspects of our football story.
- Ashton “ Papa” Nyazika — The late Nyazika was a bigger than life character in our football fraternity and he had the gift of the garb. When Black Rhinos played CAPS United in a Chibuku Trophy final in 1987 Nyazika was grateful to Simon “AK” Mugabe for snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat.
With CAPS United leading 3-2 and time running out, Mugabe went on an overlapping run before sending in a tantalising cross. Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma, a former CAPS United son broke the hearts of the fans who used to idolise him by burying the ball home. 3-3 was the final score and the teams had to fight another day. Papa was so happy with “AK” he simply said: “Uri huchi kazi!” I have never forgotten that statement, a statement of appreciation and gratitude.
- Moses “Razorman” Chunga — The super talented former Dynamos and Warriors captain brought great value on the football pitch with his scintillating displays as well as off it with his verbal punches. One of his statements still resonates up to this day and it had to do with the payment of bonuses. After being called for national duty, the “Razorman” was not happy with the money on offer. He declared: “I will not play for peanuts!” That statement ignited a hot debate on national team bonuses which is still alive to date. The bonus issue always touches a raw nerve.
- Bongani Mafu — Many felt he had bitten more than he could chew when he took up the Highlanders coaching job. That job is not for the faint-hearted because the Bosso fans are demanding and expect the team to win every match which is an impossible task. Any poor result is met with harsh and relentless criticism.
Without a thick skin, one can easily succumb to pressure and that is exactly what happened to Bongani Mafu. He summed it well when he said: “Even Jesus cannot coach Highlanders!” This gave insight into how he felt about the cherished but demanding Bosso coaching job.
- Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo — The man we all knew as “Action packed Mawhiii” was a great player and a popular one across the football divide. He always had a quip up his sleeve. When Zimbabwe played South Africa at the National Sports Stadium in 1992, a lot of attention was given to the talented and handsome Doctor Khumalo of South Africa.
The South Africa team was packed with talent and Khumalo was regarded as the gold dust among the galaxy of stars. This attention was not lost on the affable “Mahwiii’’ and after marking Doctor out of the match to secure a 4-1 hammering of Bafana Bafana he quipped: “Doctor Khumalo is too beautiful to play football!” It was a below the belt punch but that was a Mahwiii for you, a man who was never afraid to speak his mind.
- Keegan Mumba — The former Dynamos coach from Zambia always spoke flawless English with that captivating Zambian accent. Whenever Dynamos had a tricky fixture ahead, he came up with an interesting statement. He loved the metaphor “banana skin”. “We are Dynamos and everyone wants to beat us, this is a banana skin fixture!” he would say.
- Ben Koufie — The Ghanaian gaffer worked as our senior national team manager from 1988 to 1992. He believed in establishing football structures which would ensure that junior teams were well established. He wanted the conveyor belt of talent to be relentless by establishing grassroots structures.
However, most of his ideas hit a brick wall and when he was blamed for the failure to qualify for the 1992 AFCON competition he resigned. He gave a parting shot and said: “Even if you hire a coach from the moon, you (Zimbabwe) will never qualify!” Many took it as a curse and subsequent failures to qualify were attributed to this statement.
“Ben Koufie cursed us!” we declared. But did he really curse us? I think the reason we have not become a football powerhouse in Africa can be traced to what Ben Koufie was trying hard to introduce but was resisted. We still face the same challenges to date. “Hapana chituko!”
- Leo Ntawantawa — He was part of a solid Dynamos goalkeeping department which also included the smartly dressed Lucky Dube. After his dedicated if not flawless service to the Glamour Boys, he decided to join Airforce of Zimbabwe team Chapungu United.
Soldiers will be soldiers and so before playing football, he had to go for military training. I will never forget Leo’s response to this expectation. After one grueling training session, he disappeared and Airforce of Zimbabwe people could not find him. Later he emerged and declared: “I am a footballer not a soldier.” He forgot the old saying among our people: “Ateya mariwa murutsva haatyi kusviba magaro!” Joining Chapungu came with a package, he had to go through the military training and earn his stripes. “Ntawaz”, as we called him, was an interesting character, May His Soul Rest in Peace!
- Moses Chunga — Frustrated by the condition of Chipadze Stadium where his team had just lost a match, Moses Chunga had a perfect verdict for it. He said:” This is not a football pitch, it is a potato field!” This statement resonated with many fans and up to now any bad pitch is called “a potato field!”. That is Bambo for you, contributing on and off the pitch with his perceptive comments. He is indeed a larger than life character and yes, we need to work on our stadiums.
- Felton Kamambo — In these days of social media frenzy, the suspended ZIFA president, Felton Kamambo, became the subject of cruel jokes when his slip of the tongue moment gave his detractors the tools to bury him six feet under. While introducing new Zimbabwe Warriors manager Croatian Zdravko Logarusic, he said: “ We made wide consultation to bring in someone who can bring excitement to our football. We even reached out to Big Sam (was that a joke?). We have settled on one we believe will bring this excitement… “ Then the moment which left everyone in the room in stitches came.
With his hand on his chin he continued: “He has coached in most of the continents, including Zimbabwe. . . !” That did it, the video went viral and the poor president was dismissed as a clueless leader. He made it worse when he said: “I might have difficulties in pronouncing his name, so I will not pronounce it!” I think it will be difficult to repair the damage and this statement might come to define his term of office.
Indeed, the Zimbabwean football story is a fascinating one.
There are many aspects to discuss and the enduring statements deserve a special place in the narrative. Dear reader feel free to add to the pick. — Sisonke.